Jeremy J. Fingerman

Caring for Every Beloved Soul

How appropriate that today – immediately after we have observed Yom Kippur, our Jewish day of introspection, filled with reflecting on the year just past and aspiring for the year ahead – is recognized as World Mental Health Day, a day for global mental health awareness, education, advocacy, and mobilization.

And, how appropriate that we can share news of an unprecedented $3.2 million grant FJC has received from The Marcus Foundation to support mental health services in Jewish camps across North America!

According to research shared by the National Council of Behavioral Health, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24 (National Institute of Mental Health, 2005), the age range of the majority of overnight and day camp staff. And, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15 experience a severe mental disorder, and of those children, barely more than 50 percent receive mental-health services.

Our new Yedid Nefesh Initiative will help nurture mental, emotional, and social health (MESH) for Jewish day and overnight camp communities. Yedid Nefesh, or “Beloved Soul,” refers to FJC’s understanding of the need for a multi-faceted, whole-person approach to wellness as individual souls and as a community. Many Jewish communities sing these words at the start and end of Shabbat – so too Jewish camps must think about nurturing campers, staff, and their families, both year-round and lifelong.

This initiative provides incremental funding for approximately sixty camps over three years to hire qualified mental health professionals to better address the growing and complex MESH needs and challenges faced by all of us in today’s fast-paced world. Funding will also be provided for enhanced counselor training, integrating wellness programming into activity areas, and other ways to create cultural change within their camp communities.

For many people, Jewish camp provides a place to feel safe and uniquely empowered to embrace their whole selves – mentally, emotionally, and socially. We are incredibly grateful to The Marcus Foundation for its visionary support that will allow FJC to raise the bar of excellence and elevate the field of Jewish camp to nurture every beloved soul.

Together, we are building stronger, caring, and more resilient Jewish communities for today and tomorrow.

I hope you and yours have a Z’man Simchateinu – a time in which we can celebrate joyfully as a community in our Sukkot Shalom, a safe-haven of peace and wellness.

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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