I have just returned from spending three stimulating and inspiring days in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I was joined by 17 members of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s board of directors, who traveled from across North America to learn together and exchange ideas. During our semi-annual meeting, we had the pleasure of visiting an array of camps, meeting with community leaders, camp professionals, and influential thinkers.

By discussing and interacting with those under the influence of Silicon Valley — recognized as the fertile crescent of technological innovation — we were able to better understand the transformational changes taking place in our world today, and the impact those changes are making on the field of Jewish camp, and beyond.   Trends we observe out on the west coast will continue to move eastward across the continent.

We witnessed and discussed how URJ Camp Newman and Camp Tawonga have reinvigorated their programs, especially for teens.   Both camps are inspiring a love of Judaism and creating an accepting, welcoming community for every Jew, not only in the summer but also throughout the year.  We visited two of our newest specialty camps, JCC Maccabi Sports and Ramah Galim (“Waves” featuring ocean exploration, performing arts, and adventure sports). Both are incorporating expert skill-building specialty experiences balanced by traditional Jewish values, spirit and community.   We also observed our new Hebrew immersion program, Kayitz Kef, at the J-Day Camp of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.  Rich, effective, and meaningful innovations are truly taking place in Jewish camp! 

This really should not be surprising, though.  For decades, Jewish camp has been a leading laboratory for modeling Jewish community and fostering Jewish connections.  FJC feels privileged to help accelerate some of those most effective educational innovations in immersive summer environments.

This past week Jewish camp, Jewish education, and the entire Jewish community lost a dear friend and visionary thinker, Dr. Jonathan Woocher z”l.  As an alumnus and long-time advocate for the importance of Jewish camp, Jon pushed for innovation and experimentation in all Jewish educational opportunities. He truly shaped the way so many of us think about our holy work.

I cherish the time I spent with him during a visit to our Cornerstone Fellowship in 2015.   I recall his excitement over what he observed, and of course valued greatly his constructive feedback.  Jon challenged us to never stop experimenting and innovating, and viewed Jewish camp as a wonderful venue building lasting Jewish communities.

Joe Kanfer, Founding Director of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah where Jon served as the first president, gave a moving eulogy in which he noted that Jon inspired us to constantly innovate.  “We have to be willing,” he wrote, “to act boldly, take some risks, make some mistakes… not at the margins of organizational life, but at the center of the organized Jewish community.”

Our trip this week to Silicon Valley appropriately reminded us of Jon’s mandate to innovate.  May his memory be for a blessing for all of us.