The Campfire

Gather round for news, perspectives, and tales of Jewish summer camp.

Posts Tagged ‘Community’

Why My Camp Rabbi Might be Sporting a Pixie Cut This Summer: What Camp Rabbis Do in the Off Season

By Rabbi Elisa Koppel

As I think back on the past 20-some-odd summers at camp, there are probably about a dozen programs that I remember—really remember. I think back on them not only in that I can remember what we did or what we created, but I remember how they felt: the moment of insight, the powerful conversation, the unique energy that was created through the experience.

Tuesday night was one of those programs. Except instead of being at camp, this program happened at a convention of rabbis. But I think that it’s no coincidence that nearly all of the rabbis that participated in this particular program were camp rabbis. Experiential education is so much a part of our thinking that we can’t help but create these moments for ourselves—and use those moments to live out the values that are inherent in the Jewish camp experience.

Tuesday night, I was one of about 53 rabbis who shaved my head. On stage. In front of the rest of the convention. And on livestream.

And like the programs from various summers that I remember, it was a night that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It was an experience that really changed me—more than just my hair.

Not only that, it was an experience that enabled me—and the other participants, as well as everyone who supported us—the chance to change the world, and to use the values that we preach and teach.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Inclusion at Jewish Camp

Last week, the Foundation for Jewish Camp hosted our biennial conference, Leaders Assembly, in New Jersey.  The topic of inclusion was high on the agenda and I engaged in so many invigorating conversations with colleagues about the topic and what each camp hopes to achieve within their own camp communities.  Alexis Kashar, a civil rights and special education attorney, spoke to attendees about how growing up deaf impacted her access to the Jewish community. I was particularly struck by Alexis’ description of the effect that living in a home with a family with two parents and a sibling who were all deaf had on her sister who is hearing.  Because synagogue life and supplemental school were inaccessible to the family, her sister was never introduced into it. Alexis stressed to us how inclusion has a ”ripple effect” and can profoundly affect the lives of the family of the person with disability.

Just one day after the close of the conference, I read the report that had just been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that the escalating numbers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis continued to rise. According to the report, one in 68 children are now believed to be diagnosed with ASD, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It reaffirmed for me the important work that our camps can do to engage children with disabilities and their families and continuing to evolve in order to embrace them in the best way possible.

Read the rest of this post on The Canteen.

Diversity and Pride at My Jewish Summer Camp

Aviva Davis shares how both Camp Be’chol Lashon and Camp Ramah in California have shaped her Jewish identity on the Jewish& blog.

Judaism has been a part of my life since I was born. My mother snuck Shabbat candles into the hospital in preparation for my birth and I was born on Shabbos afternoon surrounded by my family and future friends, all welcoming Shabbat and my existence. As a child, I was raised primarily by my Jewish, African-American mother, Denise. I am honored to say that she converted to this amazing religion and that I am 100% Jewish.

As soon as I turned five, she signed me up for Hebrew school. For seven years, I studied the Hebrew alphabet and dozens of prayers. By the time my Bat Mitzvah rolled around last year, I had memorized every prayer I had studied, but I was nervous. So I used my Bat Mitzvah folder as a memory tool and looking down helped avoid the stares of the 200 guests!

Continue reading on Jewish&

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), which brings a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp to the forefront of conversations all over the Jewish community.  JDAM is “a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.”  To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.

Continue reading this post on The Canteen.

Coming Out and Coming Home to My Jewish Sleepaway Camp

By David Furman

I first thought that I might be different when I was in sixth grade. I went to Jewish day school, and I was horribly bullied for being different. My reaction was to revel in the negative attention, to try to act like I liked it. It was the only way I knew to fit in. My only friends were two girls. And by friends, I mean they were willing to hang out with me at school, and we talked on the phone a couple times.  Not a couple times a week – a couple of times. One day at school, these girls asked me who my crush was, but I had never really thought about it before. When I started to think about it, I realized it was Danny. I was confused, so I just stuffed it down and lied to make it easier. I said it was one of them.

d furman 4Years later when I was seventeen, I was searching for something to connect to, a place to feel comfortable. A friend in USY convinced me to work at Camp Solomon Schechter for the summer. I was hesitant, but I figured, why not? At Jewish camp, I found the home I had been searching for, the acceptance I had been longing  for. People loved me, no matter what. In the worst of times, Schechter was my refuge. I would always look forward to summer, for moments of serenity and happiness. I have worked at camp every summer since, and as of four years ago, I work there full time—my dream job.

Let me introduce myself. My name is David Furman, and I am the Assistant Director of Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington. And I am gay. I came out one month ago at twenty-nine years old. And I came out on Facebook, so the whole world would know. (I didn’t tell a single person before I posted it on Facebook. Scary!)

So why now? And why Facebook?

Read more on The Canteen

A Jewish Summer for Everyone

This piece originally appeared in eJewish Philanthropy.

by Lee D. Weiss and Jeremy J. Fingerman

“The Pew Study should be a wake-up call. When I am asked what we do to fix Pew, I would get more Jewish kids to go to camp,” Steven M. Cohen told us as he joined the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) board meeting last week for a lively discussion of the results of the recently released survey. As a board and an organization fully committed to “assuring a vibrant Jewish future,” the time is right for us to have a greater impact on the Jewish communal agenda; and the Pew survey puts our already far-reaching goals in perspective.

Dr. Cohen laid out his theories on Jewish social networks for us. “Establishing social networks for young Jews has lifelong impact. In order to raise the marriage rate and the fertility rate of Jews, we need to facilitate young Jews building social networks. Jewish camp is the best place for this. Our communal goal should be to have every Jewish kid involved in a Jewish context for the summer.”

We couldn’t agree more and we move forward with a renewed sense of urgency. Our mission remains unchanged: to get more and more kids to experience joyous Judaism through immersive Jewish summers at camp.

As we look towards 2014, the Foundation is excited to build on the success of our first Specialty Camps Incubator, which launched five new specialty camps in the summer of 2010 and has brought more than 2500 new campers to Jewish camp thus far. Thanks to funding from the Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations, this coming summer we will facilitate the opening of four new specialty camps across the country, inviting new families to explore the magic of Jewish camp through healthy living, science and technology, sports, and entrepreneurship.

Over the past year, we have surveyed our camps on accessibility and special needs, looking for new ways to create avenues for all Jews to have the opportunity to experience Jewish camp, regardless of disability. We will be seeking funding for initiatives that significantly enhance services for children and teens with disabilities at Jewish camps across North America focusing on staffing and training; physical accessibility; and vocational and life skills training programs for those who are aging out of camp.

This February we will be launching a pilot initiative addressing affordability, creating an innovative way to make Jewish camp more accessible. We are also working on new inclusion initiatives to encourage Russian speaking Jews and children from interfaith families to participate in Jewish life even more. We look forward to sharing more on these initiatives in the months ahead.

As we move forward, we continue to explore ways to expand our tent by working with Jewish day camps and summer teen travel programs, finding new ways to ensure that more kids participate in the unparalleled experience of a Jewish summer.

Over the next few years we hope to see your child, grandchild, neighbor, and friend gathered around our campfire, sharing Shabbat under the stars, and becoming part of what we know will be a vibrant Jewish future.

Lee D. Weiss is Chair and Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Philanthropy in Action: From College to Camp

This post originally appeared on the Jewish Teen Funders Network blog.

My philanthropic journey started over a year ago, in a classroom at Yale University. Over the course of the semester, I participated in what turned out to be the most unique, fascinating, crazy, and rewarding class I have ever taken. Sixteen of us in Philanthropy in Action learned about the non-profit world, different theories of charity, philanthropy, evaluation, and how to strategically give away money. We met with many interesting philanthropists, and in the end had to decide among ourselves how to give away $50,000 of actual money.

In February, after the course had ended, I received an email from the director at Camp Kadimah, a Jewish summer camp out in Nova Scotia, Canada that I’ve been on staff at since 2009, with this past summer serving as Program Director. The subject line of the email read “Potential Opportunity.” My director said that he was thinking of participating in the Jewish Teen Funders Network Camp Philanthropy Program, which sounded similar to my philanthropy class. He wanted to know if I’d want to take on the responsibility of running it with our entering 11th grade CITs.

I immediately wrote him back telling him that we should 100% participate – and we did. He took my advice and our camp joined a group of 39 camps who participated in the Camp Philanthropy Program last summer. In the months leading up to camp, I prepared for the unique opportunity to get to give to these kids at camp an experience like what I’d had at Yale.

Camp Kadminah CITs

In June, I got to camp and jumped right into the program. At the risk of sounding cliché, the student had become the teacher. I tried to draw on my experience from my Philanthropy in Action class to help me lead the program with the Camp Kadimah CITs. I was particularly excited to facilitate this program with this group of 16 young people (coincidentally, the same size as our class at Yale), because a number of them had been my campers my first year on staff.

During the first few weeks of camp, every few days I would sit down with the CITs, discussing tzedakah and tikkun olam, thinking about how we’d make sure everyone’s voice was heard, and clarifying our own mission as a teen foundation. I gathered Requests for Proposals from local organizations, which were reviewed by the CITs in detail. The most exciting part of the experience for the CITs was our two site visits. Half of the group left camp to visit the Blockhouse School Project. There, a passionate older man told us of their work turning an old school into a community center and sustainability hub, complete with a wall made of books and a garden. He explained how they needed a new septic system or the government would shut them down. In the afternoon, I took the other half of the CITs to visit the Lunenburg District Victorian Order of Nurses, where we sat in a luxurious boardroom and were given a PowerPoint presentation on their work with the elderly population of Lunenburg before seeing their facilities. It was fascinating to see the contrast between these organizations, both doing important work in very different ways, and the CITs’ reactions to the different presentations. That afternoon, all our CITs came together and debriefed each other on their respective visits.

Then came the moment of truth. One morning, with about a week left of camp, the CITs spent the morning making their grant allocation decisions, speaking passionately about the pros and cons of each organization, figuring out how to make the best decision possible. After much deliberation, they decided to give $770 to the Victorian Order of Nurses for their work with the elderly, and $230 to Adsum House, a shelter for women and children. We concluded our process by presenting homemade oversized checks to the organizations receiving funding before our entire camp at the end of summer banquet. I was incredibly impressed with our CITs’ maturity throughout the process, especially when we were making the final decision. In many ways, the way they approached the decision making process struck me as much more logical, organized and impressive than the way my class full of Yale students had! Looking back, many of my proudest moments at camp this summer came while working with the CIT’s on this program.

Camp Kadimah Check Ceremony

Since then, things have come full circle for me. When camp ended, I moved down to New York City to serve as the Bildner Fellow at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. As part of this internship, I spent a week at the JTFN office, helping plan the training for next summer’s Camp Philanthropy educators. I studied camper survey responses and came across the surveys I’d had the Kadimah CITs fill out at camp a few months ago.

Last weekend, I went back to Yale to see this year’s Philanthropy in Action class award their grants to the organizations they’d chosen. It was during this ceremony that I realized how far my philanthropic journey had come in just one year. When my director first emailed me about the JTFN program, it wasn’t just a “Potential Opportunity”, like his subject line read, but something much bigger. These ideas of philanthropy and repairing the world help me see the world differently. Bringing the excitement of teen philanthropy into the magic of summer camp is one of the most meaningful programs I’ve seen in the Jewish world. I personally cannot wait to run this program with a new group of CITs again at Camp Kadimah, and for over 1,000 more teens at Jewish camps across North America to have this incredible opportunity.

Josh Satok is a senior at Yale University and is currently serving as the Bildner Fellow at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He spent a week at the Jewish Teen Funders Network working on their Camp Philanthropy Program. Josh is a native of Toronto and has spent the past five summers as a staff at Camp Kadimah. He can be reached at

Day Camp Exploration

Over the past 15 years, Foundation for Jewish Camp has worked hand in hand with overnight camps to create and professionalize the field of Jewish camp.  As our field evolves and Jewish camp is now ever more present in the lexicon of the Jewish community, we are pleased to share that FJC is now beginning to explore how we may add value to the day camp world.

As the central address for nonprofit Jewish camps in North America, FJC works with camps from all streams of Jewish belief and practice to promote excellence in their management and programming as well as with communities to increase awareness and promote enrollment growth.  Our efforts highlight the value and importance of the nonprofit Jewish camp experience to parents, leaders, and communities.  Consistent with our strategic plan, we employ a variety of approaches to ensure that each camp delivers the best possible experience for every child and the opportunities are growing to include every child that desires to experience Jewish camp.

At our upcoming Leaders Assembly, March 23-25, 2014, we will explore together how the entire field of Jewish camp can move forward together.  We know this gathering will be an important one for all of us.

We look forward to continuing the partnerships we have with the camp movements, independent camps, and others as well as the community leaders – foundations, federations, and philanthropists – that have sought our guidance and also expressed interest in FJC entering the day camp arena.

Camp & The Pew Study

by Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the presentation of the top-line results of the new Pew Research Center study of Jewish Americans.  Among the small group were several of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s key funders, philanthropists and trustees.  Overall, the people in the room had two immediate reactions to the news that so many Jews living in the US today are non-practicing or don’t identify with Judaism:  why is this happening and what can we do about it?

As a Jewish communal professional involved in identity building and continuity, the findings were not surprising to me.  These are the challenges the field of Jewish camp faces every day, the challenges that push Foundation for Jewish Camp and our colleagues in the field to work harder, to get more kids to camp and to make every minute that they are at camp count.  According to the Pew findings, 44% of practicing Jews reported attending Jewish overnight camp as opposed to only 18% of those who are non-practicing.  We read those results to mean that those who experienced Judaism through the lens of Jewish camp were influenced to make it part of their lives long after they attended their last campfire.  We believe that many of those children may have had no other Jewish experiences growing up besides camp.

To read the rest of Jeremy’s post, please visit The Canteen.

A Snapshot of Camp Philanthropy

Right now, across North America, over 1,200 Jewish summer campers are becoming philanthropists. At 43 camps, groups of teens are developing mission statements, examining Jewish texts and values, reviewing grant proposals, making site visits, and awarding $1,000 grants to nonprofit organizations. The program encourages campers to “learn by giving,” and will generate at least $40,000 in grants to nonprofits.

The Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), a youth philanthropy project of the Jewish Funders Network, awarded grants to 38 Jewish summer camps across all denomination lines throughout North America as participants in the Camp Philanthropy Program, and continues to work with five camps from earlier pilot programs.

Generously supported by the Maimonides Fund, the Camp Philanthropy Program is part of JTFN’s broader work to build the field of Jewish teen philanthropy. JTFN supports 150 Jewish teen philanthropy programs across North America in day schools, religious schools, synagogues, social service agencies, local Jewish Federations and Jewish community foundations.

Updates and photos from Camp Philanthropy programs are featured daily on JTFN’s Facebook Page, and on the various camp blogs, written by teens as they learn about philanthropy.  As reflected in their words, the opportunity to give away real money helps teens understand their obligation, both as Jews and as the next generation, to engage in tikkun olam:

The G7 Girls of Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village in Poyntelle, PA started by understanding how Jewish values and tzedakah connect to philanthropy:

 “One of the first programs we did was a fake auction.  We were broken up into four groups and given $5,000 to donate to a certain Jewish value. We also learned about mission statements and wrote one ourselves about what we want in the charity of our choice. Another program we participated in was making a quilt to explain what tzedakah meant to us.”

Teens at JCC Camp Chi in Lake Delton, WI developed their mission statement, which helped focus their review of grant proposals:

“The organization we choose will embody the values of saving and respecting the lives of any community, no matter how diverse. When we are successful, people will be living in a safe, harmonious, self-sufficient environment.”

Alexa S. from URJ Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, MA, shares her experience of site visits and grantmaking:

“I feel so proud to be a part of this incredible group.  We are the next generation of givers.  The feeling of giving is so great and should be shared.  Find an organization that touches you.  We saw that anyone can give and that we all have an obligation to support our community and make a difference!”

Steven B. of URJ Camp Kalsman in Arlington, WA reflects at the end of their Machon (counselor-in-training) experience on their funding decision, and how philanthropy strengthened their unit’s transition from campers to counselors:

[This organization] represented who we were and complied with our Jewish values. As CITs, over the course of the summer we were learning how to be counselors, which involved taking on responsibility and learning what core values would help us become respectable and empowering role models to others.

Soon, campers will return home with new skills, new friendships, and new interests. At JTFN, we believe these campers will also bring an increased self-awareness about their values, knowledge of non-profits and grantmaking, and new leadership and group consensus skills. We trust that they will return to their communities, both Jewish and secular, with the ability and the passion to repair the world through philanthropy.

To see the full list of camps participating and learn more, visit

- Andrew Paull is the Program & Communications Assistant at Jewish Teen Funders Network, a networking organization with the mission to grow and strengthen the field of Jewish teen philanthropy.