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Swimming, Ceramics, Philanthropy?

By Naomi Skop

When summer 2011 ends, over 250 campers from ten summer camps will return home asking their parents some hard questions:

“Where do you give your tzedakah? How did you pick that organization?  At camp we learned…”

At the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), we believe that collaborative teen philanthropy programs and overnight Jewish camp are a perfect pairing. Philanthropy is not only experiential Jewish learning by its very nature—it also contributes to the real magic of camp: instilling values that campers take with them and live by throughout the year.

Research shows that those who attend Jewish summer camp are among those most engaged in Jewish life. As educators, staff, and parents, we need to think about the values that we teach each summer, and how they prepare our campers for adulthood.

From 2008 – 2010, the National Ramah Commission piloted collaborative teen philanthropy programs in six Ramah camps with the support of JTFN, all of which are in full force this summer. This year, building on the success of the Ramah Philanthropic Initiative, four more residential camps from across the field of Jewish camping are piloting their own teen philanthropy programs with JTFN’s help.

These programs work because the core lessons of teen philanthropy can be molded to complement any environment. Each of the participating camps has found the program flexible and ready to integrate with their core educational goals:

– For Habonim Dror Camp Galil, making decisions about social responsibility is integral to their summer program, and the philanthropy program introduces a new opportunity to explore the skills and values associated with these choices.

JCC Maccabi Camp Kingswood uses the teen philanthropy program to focus on leadership skills, a core element of their educational mission.

– At URJ Camp George, where the CIT program focuses on Jewish identity development, they will highlight Jewish values of local and global responsibility that shape Jewish identity.

– Educators at URJ Greene Family Camp integrated a philanthropy component into their volunteer program so that campers could begin to see themselves as individuals with multiple ways of impacting the world.

Mitch Morgan, director of JCC Maccabi Kingswood, says the planning process “has really helped us think about not only creating Jewish leaders, but Jewish leaders who are active and give back to the community.”

Just like last summer, campers and staff will think that their weeks of independence at overnight camp brought them home knowing a little more than their parents.  This time—at least when it comes to philanthropic giving—they just might be right.

Naomi Skop is the program associate at the Jewish Teen Funders Network. The mission of the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) is to provide Jewish teens with hands-on opportunities to engage in collective philanthropic giving with their peers, guided by Jewish values. Learn more at

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