592_140807-FJC_xAs I visit camps across North America this summer, I see what is possible for our community to achieve and accomplish. I am proud that Jewish camp is a leader in advocating for inclusive environments where every child shines and is able to thrive within a Jewish environment. Giving young people the opportunity to experience Jewish camp connects them to each other and to their essential Jewishness – it infects them with uncrushable ruach and joy.

In our diverse and rapidly changing world, Jewish camp represents a microcosm of the larger Jewish community and is changing the way kids, young adults, and families are connecting to Judaism and incorporating it into their lives.  I am inspired by how camps are addressing these big questions which face our broader community:

  • “What is our role as individuals, camps, communities and philanthropists in creating intentional and inclusive communities that are representative of 21st century Jewish life?”
  • “How do we build and nurture communities that are reflective of our community today?
  • “How do we welcome all Jews?”
  • “What would it look like to say ‘I Belong to Jewish Camp?’
  • In March at FJC’s Leaders Assembly, five individuals shared their own personal experiences about being “outside the bunk” and how Jewish camp made a difference in their own lives. These stories inspired all of those assembled and challenged each of us to think of ways to broaden our community, and welcome all those who are standing “outside the bunk”.

    To ensure that more Jewish camps are creating inclusive, welcoming communities, we announced the I Belong to Jewish Camp Innovative Engagement Initiative, funded by an anonymous donor. We challenged camp professionals and lay leaders to develop and pilot new ways to welcome a more diverse camper community. The initiative provided grant opportunities to overnight and day camps, communities and other organizations to develop new outreach and/or programmatic initiatives that engage interfaith and multi-ethnic families, LGBTQ campers, staff and families, families with campers with disabilities, teens, and emerging Jewish leaders.

    We received ideas from over 60 organizations. Our selection committee chose the following eight recipients which will pilot programs in their institutions; FJC will share the learnings and experiences with the entire field:

    • Herzl Camp  (Webster, WI) will focus on creating an interfaith family camp weekend that will provide a welcoming entrée to Jewish life for children with limited Jewish literacy in their homes and communities.
    • Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp (Copake, NY) is hiring an LGBTQ camper recruiter to focus exclusively on reaching LGBTQ families, especially during the summer months.
    • In The City Camp (Atlanta, GA) will create a Camp Ambassador program to engage four target groups that are not always fully welcomed into the Jewish community such as Interfaith/multi-ethnic families, LGBTQ families, Jews of color and families with young children who are making pivotal decisions about how to bring Judaism into their lives.
    • Camp Tawonga  (Groveland, CA) will launch a brand new family camp specifically for families with children under six years old as well as local, year round  programming.
    • Tamarack Camps (Ortonville, MI) will build a sensory garden to serve campers with disabilities, provide a work opportunity for young adults with disabilities and to engage young families and teach about nature and the environment.
    • URJ Camp Newman (Santa Rosa, CA) looks to significantly increase teen engagement with two new summer sessions focused on outdoor adventure and performing arts.
    • Camp Kadimah (Halifax, Nova Scotia) is re-launching new Kadimah Leadership Development Program that will attract new entrants and stem attrition of Kadimah campers who are choosing to cease their camp careers due to perceived lack of personal growth opportunities.
    • Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will meet the challenge of better engaging new potential campers, by hiring a part-time outreach specialist whose sole responsibility would be to promote the wide array of Jewish camp options to underserved and traditionally unaffiliated families.

    We can all be proud of what is happening today and excited for what will happen tomorrow.