Jeremy J. Fingerman

Camp as a Safe Space

Jewish camp is a second home and “safe space” to over 200,000 children, teens, and college-aged counselors each summer.  There, they grow, learn, and develop new skills in an environment different from home and school. At camp, it’s safe to be the best version of yourself.

This summer, with the wave of recent threats against Jewish institutions and a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents across North America, “safe space” has a different meaning.  Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has been working to ensure that camps remain safe and secure for all participants.

FJC has partnered with Secure Community Network (SCN), the security arm of The Jewish Federations of North America, to help us guide, train, and provide resources to more than 200 overnight and day camps in our network. Specifically, we are encouraging all camps to conduct risk and vulnerability assessments, create security committees, reinvigorate emergency response and communication plans, strengthen partnerships with local law enforcement, and plan training exercises and drills.

While we have taken steps to provide relevant and helpful information and to encourage preparedness for the field, in light of the current  environment, we all need to do more.

As camps prepare for this summer, they will need to confront not only security measures, but also how they will guide their camp community in this new climate of increased anti-Semitism. This Tisha B’Av, Jewish camps around North America will gather as many do every summer, lighting walkways with candles, reading the book of Eicha (Lamentations) by flashlight, and engaging in discussions about the themes of the day.  But this year, when we talk about the concept of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, the conversations take on a new meaning. How do we process the knowledge that there’s someone out there that does not know us, but hates us?

While Tisha B’Av has customarily been a time to discuss the outcomes of senseless hatred, this year, we need to make it an opportunity to explore ahavat chinam, or love without apology.  In fact, this idea has always been part of the Jewish camp world.  For many, camp is the first community — aside from family — that truly makes one feel loved. This summer, let’s make an effort to share of ourselves, not only with the camp communities, but also with the communities surrounding camps during the summer and year-round.

I am still moved by the stories that came out of the North Georgia Mountains this past fall when Camp Ramah Darom opened its facility to house and feed over 300 volunteers — “a melting pot of rugged Mexican immigrants, Native Americans, whites from the Pacific Northwest and volunteers from local Christian Churches” — working day and night for many weeks combating area forest fires.  (Read more.)  Many of these volunteers had never been on a Jewish property before. Let this example of hospitality and partnership inspire all of us to tear down the invisible walls that separate us and be more engaged and loving with our community and neighbors.

Despite the challenges posed by the recent threats targeting our communities, we must continue to live our lives each and every day.  We should go into this summer season fully prepared, with our eyes open and increased sensitivity and awareness.  But our doors and our hearts must remain open as well — welcoming and inclusive of everyone.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz. Jeremy, a former board Vice-Chair of JPRO (the network of Jewish communal professionals), received the 2023 Bernard Reisman Award for Professional Excellence from Brandeis University.
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