Did you know that Jewish camp alumni are 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel than adults who did not attend camp? All of us have a different level of connection and engagement with Israel – and for many that connection was born from our own camp experience. As adults, that translates to support for Israeli hospitals and their research, advocating for the Israeli Defense Force, or working tirelessly to make sure that the next generation realizes the importance of the Jewish State.
With Yom Ha’zikaron ceremonies and Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities occurring around the world this week, I am reminded that celebrating Israel should not be a once a year occurrence.
At the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), we have Israel on our minds and high on our agendas year round; in fact, to be included in our network, camps must have an Israel education component in their program. Armed with the knowledge that camp can be such a strong influence on a child’s feelings towards Israel, we have been working on several ways to empower Jewish camps to offer campers new, creative Israel content, engagement by shlichim, and summer travel programs to Israel.
First, FJC is improving Israel education at camp through The Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History, funded by the Larry and Lillian Goodman Foundations along with supporting grants by The Marcus Foundation and The AVI CHAI Foundation. In partnership with the iCenter, this initiative works to enhance and expand camps’ modern Israeli historical and cultural teachings, forging an even greater connection between campers and the state of Israel. Since 2012, 500 staff members have participated in the fellowship and now these participants are infusing their learnings and new programming ideas into 36 Jewish camps across North America.
Second, we know that campers experience the culture of Israel powerfully through its people first hand. This summer over 1,100 Israeli shlichim will impact thousands of young American Jews – both campers and counselors – by befriending them, teaching them, and sharing stories about their lives with them. This opportunity and the special relationship that’s built is one that is not and cannot be replicated anywhere but camp.
Finally, in order to see and feel firsthand what they learn about summer after summer, many camps offer campers a chance to participate in a cohort-based trip to Israel. Since the experiences are organized by camps, the education that participants receive is consistent with what they’ve been taught for years. These trips quickly fill up and campers aspire to the summer when they will be old enough to participate.
So, you can see that the celebration of Israel does not end this week, it continues on throughout the summer at over 155 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps across North America. This year, more than 75,000 campers and 11,000 college-aged counselors will be learning about the Jewish state in meaningful ways that will stay with them long after the last campfire has gone out.