I’ve just returned from a trip to Jerusalem where I participated in two important gatherings: the Planning Summit for a new proposed Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry and the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. For those of us who are dedicated to bolstering Jewish identity and creating a more vibrant Jewish future, these proceedings demonstrated a paradigm shift – a new two-way street between Israel and the Diaspora – with exciting possibilities. Despite the diversity of perspectives and approaches, we worked together in an open and collaborative way. And I was personally very encouraged to hear the almost universal consensus that the transformative power of Jewish camp mandates further investment and expansion.
The Government of Israel initiative represents a huge opportunity for world Jewry to work together to confront assimilation and to enhance Jewish identity. Building on the success of Birthright, the new initiative will be comprised of a significant investment by the Israeli government which will be matched with philanthropic contributions in order to reposition the place of Israel in the hearts and minds of young Jews throughout the world. We hope to leverage opportunities by taking advantage of the “adjacent possibilities” that emerge from the successes we are already having. This would include two areas which would impact our camp community in particular: enhanced Israel education at camp and increased immersive teen travel experiences in Israel.
During the GA, JFNA board chair Michael Siegal and CEO Jerry Silverman shared their priorities in response to the issues raised in the Pew study. With clarity and purpose, they called for the significant expansion of Jewish summer camps. When asked who had attended or had sent their kids Jewish camp, the vast majority of the GA delegates raised their hands affirmatively – a clear visible demonstration of how camp creates adults committed to our Jewish community. Federation leadership from across North America expressed to me their commitment to expanding that which we know is working.
The Foundation for Jewish Camp board and staff share the concern for the entire Jewish journey of our young people. Camp plays an important role by delivering compelling, joyful Jewish experiences. And we know early childhood engagement will lead to more participants in camp, which will lead to immersive Israel travel experiences, which will lead to activation on our college campuses and beyond. Linkages remain key.
The GA concluded with a dramatic, unity march by all delegates from Jerusalem’s City Hall to the Kotel, the very heart and soul of the Jewish people. Accompanied by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, amid music and purpose, the entire GA participated in experiential education at its best by walking together to our spiritual center. I truly hope the energy and emotion generated will help us to implement these new possibilities, thereby ensuring a stronger, more vibrant Jewish future.