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Posts Tagged ‘Yitro Fellowship’

Ah-Ha Moments

As it is written: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  And God saw the light that it was good.” (Bereishit, 1:3-4)

Each day, we have moments of light.  We have thoughts, ideas, and contemplations about ways to improve life.  We think about how we can help our family and friends.   We think about ways to make our jobs more meaningful or easier. We think about how to become healthier.  We think.  Not every idea is a good one.  We likely have more bad ideas than good ones.  Yet, rarely do we take the moment to reflect and determine its merit.

Human nature inherently pushes us to go and do.  Many of us attend seminars, trainings, workshops, meetings, conferences, etc.  The rooms buzz with excitement and ideas.  The hour long presentation was the best thing you ever saw.  You walk out the door energized.  You get back to your desk and realize you can’t articulate the ideas you left the room with just moments ago.  Shadows of your thoughts ruminate in your brain.  You try your hardest to put your thoughts on paper, but you can’t reach them.  It’s too late.  The moment of reflection has passed.

God teaches us reflection from the start of the Torah.  Each act of creation is followed by a recap and nod of approval.  The Yitro Leadership Program brings Assistant and Associate Camp Directors together from all parts of the US.  In a three-day seminar, not a moment is wasted.  We walk in and have agendas, workbooks, notebooks, and pens waiting for us.  The flip charts are placed at the front of the room near the PowerPoint projector.  There is a coffee table at the back of the room.  It’s time to work.  You look at the agenda, and it looks like any other schedule: three sessions before lunch, another four before dinner, and an evening program.  The agenda, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.  We revisit the content from our previous two seminars.  We look at the challenges facing our own camps today.  We build a frame, together, for what we are about to do.  We are learning as we share with each other best practices.  With each topic, we work through case studies, build skills, and develop benchmarks.

We are asked to flip to page one of our workbooks and jot down any revelations we’ve had.  The top of the page reads “Ah-Ha Moments”.  It’s a blank page in a workbook.  We are in session, but we are silent.  Many would look at this as wasted time and space.  This is intentional.  Reflection is critical to learning and development.  It underscores that which we have found most important.  It allows us to remember our thoughts at a later time.

Thinking back on our sessions, I had so many “Ah-Ha Moments”.  One of the most profound discussions and topics was about the way we train our staff.  Training is not a one week process at camp.  In fact, training is an ongoing process in life.  We coach, we teach, we cultivate, and we teach our staff to be better individuals.  We are in the business of role modeling. We are in the business of growing children into young Jewish adults.  What do we want our kids to Know, Value, and Do in their lives? These are the methods we use to train our staff as role models.

What’s an idea that you lost?  What do you wish you remembered?  What got lost between the meeting room and your desk?  Stop.  Think.  Reflect.  Write.  Imagine the good that can come from it.

- Dan Baer, Associate Director, Camp Interlaken JCC

Kicking Off Yitro II

I feel fortunate to have just started two fantastic journeys simultaneously:  one as the Assistant Director of Camp Poyntelle-Lewis Village (CPLV) and the other as a participant in the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Yitro Leadership Program for Assistant and Associate Directors, generously supported by the AVI CHAI Foundation.  Last week, the 20 participants came together for the first time as the 2nd cohort of the Yitro Leadership Program launched in Teaneck, New Jersey. Together we learned, shared, and engaged in thought provoking discussion, storytelling, and relationship building.

Led by our fearless Faculty Advisors Jay Frankel, Amy Smyler Macfarland, and Rabbi Avi Orlow, we embarked on what promises to be the first of many extraordinary seminars learning together. This first seminar helped us explore the many hats we wear as assistant directors, the myriad of tasks we take on, and how to manage our staff and campers year round. We tackled impressive new training models, conflict resolution strategies, storytelling techniques, and methods for creating intentional and meaningful interactions through our work.

On the second night of our seminar, we had a dinner reception with engaging FJC board members. Additionally, Yitro I alumnus, Greg Kellner,  Senior Assistant Director of URJ Crane Lake Camp, spoke to the group about his experiences in Yitro and his wishes for our new journey.  He shared a story with us about the importance of asking questions and turning your camp’s weaknesses into strengths.  Greg ended by quoting Pirkei Avot: “find yourself a teacher, and acquire yourself a friend.”

Greg’s message stuck with me through the rest of our time at the session. I realized how true this statement and goal is for us as individuals, as well as for our overall responsibility to our campers and staff in our respective jobs. After just four days of learning together, I already feel I have embraced nineteen new friends and found three remarkable mentors and teachers in our faculty.  I am inspired to bring a new level of innovation to CPLV programming and staff training armed with the ideas that were sparked in our first seminar.  I know summer 2012 will present each Yitro Fellow with the opportunity to be someone’s teacher and friend, just as Greg and the FJC faculty provided each of us with a tool box of ideas to inspire us through the rest of our journey in the Yitro Leadership Program.  We are looking forward to our second session in October

- Mallory Saks, Assistant Director at Camp Poyntelle-Lewis Village in Poyntelle, PA

Moses and Yitro II

In synagogues across the world, the Torah portion that was read this past weekend was Parashat Yitro.  In this section, we learn about how Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses, counseled him on his management skills:

And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him: “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone you shall provide out of all the people able, God-fearing men, men of truth, hating unjust gain; so they shall make it easier for you and bear the burden with you then you shall be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”  (Exodus 18: 17-22, Parashat Yitro)

Like today’s busy camp professionals, Moses needed to build vibrant, intentional Jewish encampment that was suffused with Jewish values, ethics, culture, and spirit in all aspects of programming and operations.  While Yitro was able to help him tweak his management style, Moses would have benefited from some additional support like FJC’s Yitro Leadership Program which offers training to assistant and associate camp directors who are carrying on Moses’s mission.

With the continued generous sponsorship of the AVI CHAI Foundation, FJC will train a second cohort of Yitro fellows from a diverse cross section of overnight Jewish summer camps.  Over the course of nineteen months, participants will convene for five sessions of intensive training.  Using experts and recognized leaders from various disciplines, the program will challenge the participants to widen their lens of Jewish leadership in order to enhance the staff culture and experience at their home camps and in turn, the entire field.

This unique program focuses on camp staff as the cultural change vehicles at camp for a strong reason. Beyond the fact that they serve an important role as a camper’s primary guide and role model of the camp experience for their campers, they themselves are also influenced long term by the Jewish summer camp experience. Recent data show that the camp counselor experience leaves a lasting impact; 70% of young Jewish leaders are alumni of Jewish summer camp, as well as many more established rabbis, educators and cantors (20-30%). (Wertheimer, Jack, Generation of Change, How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life, AVI CHAI Foundation, September 2010, and CAMP WORKS, 2011)

It is therefore through the vehicle of the summer staff experience where Yitro II seeks to leverage the assistant director as having the most impact in driving Jewish change at camp. The curriculum is constructed upon concrete organizational principles based upon the assistant director’s role and responsibilities at camp such as staff management, assessing and creating change in communities, large group management, delivering and receiving feedback, staff morale, facilitating meetings, strategies for behavior intervention, problem analysis and resolution, and mission-based decision making.

We are excited to announce the members of the second cohort of the Yitro Leadership Program!

- Jodie Abrams, Shwayder Camp, Independent, Denver, CO

-  Ezra Androphy, Pinemere Camp, JCCA, Philadelphia, PA

-  Edana Appel, Camp Livingston, JCCA, Cincinnati, OH

-  Daniel Baer, Camp Interlaken JCC, JCCA, Milwaukee, WI

-  Kelly Bidinger, URJ Kutz Camp, URJ, Warwick, NY

-  Gary Brandt, URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp, URJ, Utica, MS

-  Aaron Cantor, Camp Seneca Lake, Independent, Rochester, NY

-  Marissa Frankel, URJ Eisner Camp Institute, URJ, Washington Township, NJ

-  Solly Kane, URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, URJ, Northbrook, IL

-  Beth Kanofsky, URJ Camp Harlam, URJ, Philadelphia, PA

-  Drea Lear, Herzl Camp, Independent, Saint Louis Park, MN

-  Rachel Levine, B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp, B’nai B’rith, Gaithersburg, MD

-  Katie Quinn, Camp Tawonga, JCCA, San Francisco, CA

-  Mallory Saks, Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, JCCA, Bayside, NY

-  Rachel Saslove, Camp Mountain Chai, JCCA, San Diego, CA

-  Andrea Solomon, URJ Camp Coleman, URJ, Atlanta, GA

-  Joshua Sternburg, Camp JRF, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Jenkintown, PA

-  Seth Toybes, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, Independent, Los Angeles, CA

-  Michael Wax, B’nai B’rith Beber Camp, B’nai B’rith, Skokie, IL

-  Eli Zevin, Camp Alonim, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA

The Yitro Leadership Program builds a network of camp assistant and associate directors who will support one another in becoming Jewish leaders and educators.  We want to thank the alumni of the first cohort, whose ongoing feedback and support helped the program to evolve.  Like Moses, they have paved the way for all who will come after them.  The members of this second cohort will get the opportunity to meet the alumni of the program at a special reception at Leaders Assembly.  If you are there, you will have the opportunity to meet them as well.

- Rebecca S. Leibowitz, Senior Program Manager, Foundation for Jewish Camp

Methodology Madness

If any of you are like me, March Madness has taken over your day and you are frantically checking your NCAA basketball brackets, sneaking peaks at game scores throughout the day. This past fall I started the University of Washington – Foster School of Business’ part time MBA program, and was fortunate enough to receive a grant through the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Robert and Elisa Spungen Bildner Fellowship. Fortunately for me, and for my bracket, I just completed a semester of “Statistics Analysis for Business,” but it was not my basketball bracket where I have most utilized the last quarter of studying. For the last few weeks there has been much talk about the impact of Jewish summer camp. This is likely a result of the CAMP WORKS study released by FJC earlier this month.

As a full time camp professional, I am always thrilled with anything that supports the work that we do. Any tool which shows Jewish summer camp as integral in the foundation and growth of a child’s Jewish identity and, further, indicates increased involvement in the Jewish community and ongoing Jewish life, is a welcome tool for us to share with parents and community members. If this had been published three months ago, I probably would have said to myself, “Here is a great article to share with families about the success and importance of Jewish Summer Camp.”

Instead, at the beginning of March, I poured over the report with a whole new perspective. I looked at the findings not only through the eyes of an Assistant Camp Director but, also, as a person who was just about to take her final stats exam. The night before the study was released, my class focused on multivariate statistical analysis, looking at the importance of isolating specific variables and controlling for the potential effect of others. I heard myself explaining the methods in conjunction with the results of the CAMP WORKS study with great excitement. The strength of the findings was not the qualitative idea that camp is great, but rather the ability to quantify what we all felt. Jewish Camp works and it’s all in the numbers.  The ability to combine and quantify gives exceptional weight, not only to the study, but in effect, to the success of Jewish Camp.

In the FJC’s Yitro Leadership program, our cohort spent a lot of time drilling down into the details of our camps’ programs and missions. We explored the methods of infusing the day to day of camp with intentionality and supported each other in developing meaningful additions to the culture and offerings of Jewish Camp. Now, just two quarters into my MBA program, I am excited that I have already found ways to seamlessly apply my coursework to, well, work and understand methodology from a different angle.

- Briana Holtzman, Assistant Director, URJ Camp Kalsman

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

FJC Graduates First Cohort of Yitro Leadership Fellows

FJC is proud to announce the graduation of the inaugural Yitro Leadership Program cohort of associate and assistant camp directors!  Generously supported by the AVI CHAI Foundation , the Yitro Program’s goal is to ensure that the next generation of senior nonprofit Jewish camp professionals has the knowledge and skills necessary to maximize the impact that camp experiences have on Jewish learning, Jewish community, and Jewish identity among campers, counselors, and staff.

Mazel tov to the graduates:

Robin Anderson, Camp Young Judaea Midwest

Joel Bennett, B’nai B’rith Beber Camp

Allison David, Camp JCA Shalom

Julie Finkelstein, Capital Camps

Sarah Gruesner, Herzl Camp

Briana Holtzman, URJ Camp Kalsman

Greg Kellner, URJ Eisner Camp Intitute

Jamie Maxner, Camp Tel Yehudah

Brian Mitchell, URJ Crane Lake

Sean Morgan, Camp Wise

Rachel Rothstein, B’nai B’rith Camp

Stefani Rozen, URJ Greene Family Camp

Marci Soifer, Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake

Yael Twito, Camp Young Judaea Texas

Ari Vared, URJ Camp Newman-Swig

Akiko Yonekawa, Camp Alonim

David Zimmerman, Camp Mountain Chai

Here’s a video of four of the fellows discussing the power of Jewish camp:

Torah 2.0 and Sharing Tribal Knowledge

The main event of this week’s Torah portion, Yitro – arguably the climax of the book of Exodus, if not the entire Torah – is the Revelation at Sinai. This event is directly preceded by Moses’s reunion with his family. Amidst this reunion, Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, sees Moses at work. While Moses was sitting from morning until night listening to the people who had come to seek God (Exodus 18:13-15), Yitro said, “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely become worn out. You, as well as this people that is with you, for this matter is too hard for you, you will not be able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18). Moses outlived his entire generation, it was not as if he was going to become weak in his strength to govern or adjudicate law. It seems more likely that Yitro was concerned that the people would grow tired, or worse not get timely access. I am sure we can all relate.

I know I’m not alone when I say that my patience for a dial-up internet connection–let alone snail mail!—is almost non-existent since the advent of high speed web access. In a time of instant connection and searchable information, we are simply unwilling to wait in line.

In his book, Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch Joel (our keynote speaker at Leaders Assembly) asked his readers to meditate on two concepts:

1. How do you make your business’s tribal knowledge accessible to all (the people) on your team?

2. How do you extend that shared wisdom to your customers and evangelists? (p. 232)

His suggestion echoes Yitro’s advice for Moses. Many of us recognize that our current information-sharing system is inefficient. Much of our knowledge floats around our industry and our offices, but is never documented or discussed. For the sake of the Jewish people, we need to rethink how we share our “tribal” knowledge—our camp knowledge. We need to rethink how we communicate with our camp families, campers, staff, and alumni.

Come join in this conversation at Leaders Assembly 2010, March 14-15, where Mitch Joel will share his insights on how the Jewish camp field might utilize innovate digital marketing strategies. Just as Yitro radically changed how Moses thought about sharing Torah, Mitch Joel will guide our exploration of connecting our networks and knowledge online—call it Jewish Camp 2.0.

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

Feels Like I Was There…

The inaugural Yitro Fellowship cohort has been back from Israel for a while but as a post-Hanukkah present to our loyal readers we wanted to share with you this amazing video created by one of the fellows, Ari Vared, about the group’s trip. Feel free to sing along if you know the words. Enjoy!

Seeing Israel (and Camp) in a New Light

Learning a new story about a familiar place can challenge your notions of its people, its past, and its future. At the close of the Yitro Fellowship Program’s Israel Seminar, we found that our perspectives on Israel had changed, as we realized the complexity of the Jewish and Zionist story.

As a result, we continue to seek out new stories, and answers to new questions. How does our story start? Who are the characters in my story? Am I telling the right story? And even: Can our story change over time?

The founders of Pinat Shorashim had clearly considered questions like these; stories and lessons are literally created on the the ground in their educational laboratory. As you step onto the grounds, words and traditions come to life. Traditional texts find a new life in mosaics, meeting space, prayer space. The space itself tells the story of a dream turned into reality.

Along the “Separation Fence,” we examined the role of the story teller and their characters. A representative from Ir-Amim told us one story about the Fence, but our bus driver told a different one. It became clear that this challenging barrier represents something different to every person on each side. We wondered: When you listen to a story, whose story are you hearing?

At Yad Vashem, we were greeted by trees dedicated to righteous gentiles, scenes of thriving Jewish life, and information about those who risked their own comfort and lives to save others. We heard not the story of a victimized people, but of a culture strong enough to rebuild itself, even after near destruction. We examined the changes between the old Yad Vashem and the new, and how the Jewish people’s message may need to change with time.

In the lobbies of hotels, the walks between the sites, and on the bus rides across the country, we pondered how to bring fresh perspectives back to our work at camp, and grappled with the way in which we tell our collective story of Jewish camping in North America.

-Brian Mitchell (URJ Crane Lake Camp), Briana Holtzman (URJ Camp Kalsman), and Marci Soifer (Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake)

Finding Our Story on Tel Aviv’s Streets

As the sun sets on a beautiful beach in Tel Aviv, our Yitro Fellowship cohort considers the journey ahead: How will this 10-day trip in Israel help us to build intentional camp communities?

It starts here in Tel Aviv. By exploring the passion that bellied the growth of this “holy” city, we can understand the ways its founders turned their dreams into a reality.  As we toured the historical neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, visited the Rubin Art Museum and saw Chayim Nachman Bialik’s home, we found clear evidence of this vision. Art, language, and urban planning converged, resulting in a community, a culture, and a tradition.

We also witnessed how Tel Aviv’s contemporary story has been articulated through Bina B’Shchuna, a program at a secular Yeshiva in a poor southern neighborhood dedicated to tikkun olam, (repairing the world) and experiencing a theater performance by the world’s only deaf and blind theater company, Nalaga’at. Tel Aviv’s citizens are constantly redefining their daily reality, and making what once seemed impossible possible.

As assistant and associate directors of Jewish camps, we are regularly faced with the challenge of how to tell our story. Like the pioneers of Tel Aviv, how do we build and empower our camp community? What does it mean to redefine the reality of Jewish camp in North America?  Are we the new pioneers?  How will our dreams be expressed; how will they inform or develop Jewish culture, tradition, and community in our camps?

We are starting to understand that our camps have a story to tell, that we are the storytellers, and that if we choose, our stories will change and impact Jewish camping forever.  As we travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Shabbat, we look forward to the next portion of our shared journey in Israel, and to developing our collective story.

-Brian Mitchell (URJ Crane Lake Camp), Briana Holtzman (URJ Camp Kalsman), and Marci Soifer (Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake)