By Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp
I am often asked how Jewish camp has become such a powerful and valued educational and engagement tool for our community. The key, I believe, is the college-aged counselors: role models who work tirelessly to help guarantee that their campers have the best, most transformational summers possible.
A few weeks ago, I traveled with seven of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) board members to our 12th annual Cornerstone Fellowship, a five-day seminar which has become the preeminent Jewish experiential education training program for returning bunk counselors. We observed 250 college-aged fellows from more than 50 different camps who are deeply passionate about Judaism and camp. Cornerstone engages this group and gives them the tools to be effective Jewish leaders in their camps and beyond; they are the “crème de la crème” for future leadership in the Jewish community.
Over the course of five days, these fellows – from different denominations, geographic locations, beliefs, and philosophies – become a unique Jewish community that learns from each other in an open, respectful, and welcoming environment. One of the board members who visited Cornerstone for the first time said it well: “this particular demographic is often the most difficult to reach in the Jewish community. The fact that it touches so many young adults of different denominations, in a shared experience, is truly unique.”
The profound learning at Cornerstone happens, just as in the camp experience, due to the intentional work of the faculty. The Cornerstone faculty is made up of an incredibly impressive group of educators and advisors who run a diverse and stimulating program of innovative sessions and specialty tracks. Some of my favorite sessions included:
– An exploration of historic Jewish activists and the role they can play in the ongoing fight for justice and liberation.
– A series of workshops to provide fellows with tools to improve their skills in working with campers with disabilities, identifying potential problem situations before they start, and defusing and addressing them when they do.
– A discussion of gender identity, expression, and development in different parts of the camp community and ways to create a safe space for all campers.
– An investigation of the different ways to approach the idea of blessing (brachot) through meditation and thinking about methods to transform the way it is approached at Jewish camp.
The Cornerstone Fellowship has a ripple effect – encouraging the fellows to promote positive Jewish cultural changes in their camp, and in turn, impacting all of the campers and families around them. As one fellow reflected of the experience, “I saw the scope of Jewish camp much more so than I ever had before. And I understand my role as a Jewish leader more fully than I did in the past.” In twelve years, 2,550 fellows have been trained through Cornerstone and in a recent study of the program’s alumni conducted by FJC, 89% of them said the fellowship increased their sense of self as role models and leaders.
We are grateful for the generosity of The AVI CHAI Foundation, The Marcus Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, and the Morningstar Foundation for their investment in the next generations of our Jewish leaders.
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This post also appeared on The Times of Israel.