I love the holiday of Sukkot; it is Z’man Simchateinu, our time of rejoicing and celebration. As Jews, we are commanded to welcome guests into our Sukkahs — our joyous, well-decorated, temporary dwellings. We invite them to join us as we eat and enjoy this harvest festival. Like our various Sukkahs, Jewish summer camp offers a temporary dwelling filled with joy and magic for campers and staff. We strive to welcome as many individuals, from as many different backgrounds into our camp communities as possible.
The Jewish community in North America is extremely diverse and we are working to ensure this diversity is fully reflected in our summer camps. Many children from interfaith families, those with disabilities, children of Russian Speaking or Israeli families, those from middle to lower income families, children of multi-ethnic background, who are not experiencing one of the most important tools to build positive, Jewish identity.
For those of us who attended camp as kids, sending our own children or grandchildren to camp is a priority. But for those in the community who have never experienced the magic of summers at camp, or those who may have grown up in Israel or emigrated from the former Soviet Union, sending children to camp during the summer doesn’t come naturally.
To ensure our Jewish camps are more inclusive and represent the entire Jewish community, FJC is working to reduce the barriers of entry for all families and children. Camps are adding to their staff training to build sensitivity to cultural differences. They are also educating families about the importance of camp in a child’s Jewish education as part of their outreach. Some solutions, however, require greater investment, intentionality, and creativity.
Today, as Jewish summer experiences are becoming central for many families, we are even more inspired to expand and grow the impact of Jewish camp on our Jewish community. Together with our partners, we will continue to advocate for and build awareness around camper populations that are reflective of the reality of the North American Jewish community. In the next five years, we aim to:
- generate a significant increase in options for children with disabilities, doubling the number of current campers by adding 2,500 more children with disabilities to the system of overnight camps including engaging day camps in this area;
- expand BunkConnect and devise new opportunities for middle and lower-income families with effective affordability initiatives, adding 3,000 new campers to the system; and
- enable camps to recruit at least 1,500 more campers from Russian-speaking backgrounds through FJC training, incentives, and recruitment support.
FJC is committed to increasing the number of children who participate in Jewish camps. By reducing the barriers for entry and creating opportunities for families, we are fulfilling the vision of Sukkot by creating Klal Israel — a true total community — at camp and enriching the Jewish experience for our children.