The Campfire

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Archive for May, 2010

Acquiring Shavuot

In the Torah, we recently started reading the book of Numbers- Bemidbar in Hebrew, meaning “in the wilderness.” We learn in the Midrash:

“There are three ways to acquire Torah, with Fire, with Water, and with Wilderness.” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1)

It could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), through immersion (water), and through a trek through the unknown (wilderness).

Soon over 70,000 Jewish children will be headed off to camp where they will meet tremendous role models who will share their passion. They will have immersive Jewish experiences (beyond just passing their swim tests), and there, in the bucolic setting of camp, they will experience community and prayer in ways we cannot even imagine in most of our (sub)urban life styles.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Shavuot, the holiday commemorating our national memory of the Revelation of the Torah at Sinai. In the words of Rashi, it was there at Sinai that we encamped at the foot of the mountain as “one nation with one heart.” The reality is that the memory of Sinai might be hard to access. It is easier to reconnect to our memories when in the place where they were created.  It has been a long time since I was at camp, but I think about it all the time. At camp I felt impassioned and alive. I was on fire. At camp I felt like I really belonged. I was immersed in my Jewish life. Camp was a safe and supporting environment in which I could challenge myself. Camp is that special place where we can all find our own way to acquire Torah. This summer, together we can make profound memories to deepen the Shavuot experience for years to come. Have a very meaningful Shavuot.

–Rabbi Avi Orlow, Jewish Education Specialist at the Foundation for Jewish Camp

The New Hybrid: Day School and Camp?

What would happen if day school and Jewish overnight camp merged into a year-long educational and recreational experience? Robert Lichtman of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, and FJC Incentive Program partner, wonders below on

Seeing Clearly with Double Vision by Robert Lichtman

Why do children learn in parallel rows in the winter and in circles in the summer?

The parallel rows are the desks in the day schools. We can demonstrate what day school students learn about the history of our people, Hebrew language and literature, Torah, Israel, holidays, Jewish Peoplehood, culture and folklore.

The circles are the depressions in the grass left by thousands of Jewish tushies that sit around camp fires, song leaders or story tellers in Jewish overnight camps. We can demonstrate that campers enjoy celebrating the Jewish experiences of Shabbat, music, dance, community-building, Zionism, and nature.

The American Jewish community has developed two brilliant but bifurcated models for nurturing Jewish identity, for invigorating Western Jewish minds, for inspiring Jewish spirit, and for growing Jewish citizens. Where is it written that the way we teach should be determined by the temperature? Both systems work exceptionally well separately. Can they work better together?

Read the rest of the post at

Jewish Camp in the News

With summer just around the corner, Jewish camp is on the lips of people across North America!  Check out these news highlights:

- Mother Nature Network included Eden Village Camp in their roundup of 15 green summer camps to send your kids to that will teach them how to live green and appreciate the planet while they have fun outside. [, 5/4]

- Tablet makes a case for “unplugging” children for the summer. [Tablet, 5/3]

- j. The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California offers tips to defer the cost of camp. [jweekly, 4/22]

- A special new CD captures spirit of Jewish camp songs: Oy Baby presents We Sang That at Camp. [jweekly, 4/22]

- What is the impact that the economy is and has been having on the field of nonprofit Jewish overnight camp?  The Jewish Chronicle found out. [The Jewish Chronicle, 4/15]

- The New Jersey Jewish News delves in New Jersey Y Camps’ effort to attract children from the Russian immigrant community. [NJJN, 3/31]

- In its piece about the best summer camps for kids, The View from the Bay tells its viewers about the JWest program and how to apply for grants. [The View from the Bay, 3/30]

- Julie Weiner from The Jewish Week discusses the nonprofit Jewish camp community’s plans for getting all Jewish kids to camp. But how big is too big? [Jewish Week, 3/29]

- How do you know when your kids are ready for camp?  The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix says that when deciding, parents should weigh children’s skills and interests. [Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, 2/12]

If your camp is in the news, please let us know!

Yitro Fellows “Look Upstream”

Julie Finkelstein, Yitro Fellow and assistant director at Capital Camps, gave the following speech at the fellows’ graduation ceremony last week – we thought we would share:

Good afternoon everyone!

It’s funny that I was asked to speak on behalf of the group – anyone that has spent any time with this cohort knows that we never fully agree on anything, and that the idea that just one of us would be able to accurately reflect the feelings of this group is pretty ridiculous. This Yitro group is comprised of passionate, opinionated, intelligent and curious individuals, So I will try to briefly highlight some of my own thoughts.

The Yitro fellowship has truly been one of the most special programs I have ever been a part of.  In thinking about what has made this experience so meaningful, I am reminded of a story that many of you have probably heard –

One day a group of villagers was working in the fields by a river when someone noticed a baby floating downstream. A woman rushed out and rescued the baby. Over time, more babies were found floating downstream, and the villagers rescued them too. Soon the number of babies grew too numerous for the villagers, and they became exhausted with the rescue work. Controversy erupted in the village; some argued that every able person was needed to save the babies while others asserted that if they found out how those babies were getting into the water further upstream they could eliminate the need for the rescue operations downstream.

I believe that the Jewish community is in a similar situation. While we need to focus on those in need, we also need to focus on ways to systematically improve the organizational culture in Jewish agencies. A focus on Jewish professional development enables organizations to better achieve excellence and better deliver their services offered.  Better camp professionals means better camp programs.

Fortunately for me, and my fellow Fellows, Avi Chai & FJC would agree.  The Yitro Fellowship provided the group of us with the opportunity to look upstream.  To find out what would happen to our camp communities and our professional capabilities, if we acted with purpose. We were challenged to think about our stories and how the use of space, time, ritual and relationships impacted our the camping movement as a whole, and the individuals we work with.

I deeply commend and thank FJC and Avi Chai for investing so heavily in this idea.   Unlike many other programs, Yitro uniquely incorporated professional voices from across the denominational and institutional spectrums. Our individual stories made for important and productive debate.  Our diversity ultimately made our group cohesive, our conversations more dynamic, and more complicated our notions of what successful Jewish camping could look like.

The Yitro program is also unique in that it addressed the needs of middle managers in the camping field.  For many, the program alleviated feelings of isolation, providing a community of similar professionals to learn and grow with and from.  For others our cohort was a sounding board to discuss issues unique to Assistant Directors or to professionals at a similar career stage.  For all of us, Yitro provided a space to be frustrated, challenged, confused, inspired, exhausted, comfortable, uncomfortable and passionate.

And as many of us articulated beautifully in our final siyum, closing ritual, last night – Yitro was our place to make true and lasting friendships.  Similar to what happens at camp, in a short year we in the fellowship have become like family.  We might not always agree, but we will always be there to support one another.  I feel so fortunate to have gained a group of colleagues, and of lifelong friends.

Last night we also addressed the ever changing dynamic of the group – there are those who started with us and aren’t here today, and many of us who have already plotted next steps in our careers or future educational opportunities some outside of the camping world.  Change and fluidity are all too common in this field, particularly with young professionals and middle managers.

So I leave us all with a challenge.  For the fellows – how can we continue this process, to continually increase our impact on Jewish camp after we depart today, and for some of us, after we depart from professional affiliation with this field. How will this group of incredibly talented individuals shape the Jewish community and the next generation of Jewish leaders?

For Avi Chai, FJC and our directors in the room, I challenge you to consider how you will continue to invest heavily in programs like Yitro, in middle management, this group, and those that will come after us. We have only hit the tip of the iceberg here, and Yitro is one of far too few successful professional development initiatives in the Jewish community.

Personally, I am excited by the challenge.  I look forward to continuing to look upstream with all of you, systematically enhancing Jewish life for our campers and staff.

I know I speak on behalf of all of the fellows when I say thank you for making this all possible