This coming Shabbat leads us right into Shavuot — commemorating some very significant Jewish moments including receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the choice of Ruth the Moabitess to join the Jewish people. The Israelites dared to have faith at the foot of Sinai. Ruth and Naomi dared to believe in each other and Jewish life — ultimately leading to Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the lineage of King David. These awesome leaps of faith inspire us as we dare to take on new experiences, new programs and strategies, and an all new Jewish summer camp season.
Right now, over 300 college-age counselors from more than 60 different camps are convening at Capital Camps for annual Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. There, they are developing new experiential Jewish educational opportunities to implement at camp. Equally important, these returning camp counselors are refining and enhancing their own Jewish journeys.
The theme for Cornerstone this year is “Dare to…,” with FJC Cornerstone faculty facilitating programs that push our fellows to be brave, bold, step-out of their comfort zone and grow to meet their full potential as leaders.
This year’s “Reflect on Cornerstone” original song, Im Rak Na’iz (If We Dare), was composed by Rabbi Noam Katz, with lyrics to inspire us all: “If we dare to dream, we dare to try / Dare to question, dare to cry / If we dare to speak, or take a stand / Dare to take somebody’s hand / Every mountain we must overcome / Reminds us where we started from.”
Counselors are the linchpin of the Jewish camp experience. Happy and well-trained staff lead to happy campers who return summer after summer. When a camper returns as a counselor, the impact of the camping experience is amplified as staff internalizes the lessons of their own camper experience to create similar (or better) experiences for their own campers.
Attendance at Jewish camp gives children a network of Jewish peers and role models, enhanced Jewish knowledge, and increased connection to Jewish life. This impact is only magnified when these young people return to camp as staff, to have a formative Jewish experience of their own by creating these experiences for others. For example, in his 2017 study of alumni of Ramah camps – The Alumni of Ramah Camps: A Long Term Portrait of Jewish Engagement – Steven M. Cohen found those campers who return to serve as counselors were over 50% more likely to have higher levels of Jewish engagement than those who did not.
Since inception 16 years ago, over 4,000 Cornerstone alumni are now all over the globe – professionals, students, rabbis, and teachers – daring to innovate, create and celebrate Jewish life.
At FJC we are daring to imagine how we can help camps truly maximize the counselor experience for even greater impact. While Cornerstone will remain the pinnacle of the aspirational arc, we envision a more seamless continuum of experiences as campers grow to become teen-age counselors-in-training and then college-age counselors. In the future, these experiences will be more focused on developing and refining skill sets that are attractive to teens, parents, universities, and future employers. Innovative Jewish experiences, as well as life and career readiness skills gained at camp can enrich a resume, and be applicable in high school, college essays, on campus at Hillel, in the workplace and the Jewish community.
Empowering college-age counselors to be Jewish experiential educators means equipping them with tools and inspiration. This year, we hope they will “Dare to….” not only for their campers, but also for themselves, as our Jewish future depends upon them.