Next week, we will gather together with family and friends to celebrate Passover. While we return to the same story in the Haggadah each year, no two Seders are alike. Perhaps we invite new friends to join us at the table who help us see something new in the story, or we may even seek out new readings, commentary, and traditions to incorporate into the proceedings. Or perhaps we ourselves have changed due to the experiences of the intervening year, allowing us to bring new insight, perspective, wisdom, and energy to the discussion around the Seder table.
We are inspired by the way this profound combination of familiarity and evolution is also reflected in the hard work of Jewish camp professionals. We have unending admiration for these dedicated leaders, who sustain the meaningful traditions of their camp community every summer while also working year-round to learn, adapt, and enhance the camp experience from year to year. Amidst the increasing complexity of their jobs in these challenging times, they innovate and adapt – and FJC continues to help accelerate enhancements to the camp experience while supporting camp traditions.
Just as we may invite new guests to our Seder table – or plan to join new friends at their Passover celebrations – camps are preparing to welcome both returning and new “guests” for Summer 2019. This includes bringing international staff to Jewish camp, who are integral in broadening horizons, sharing cultures, and adding new energy, languages and perspectives to the community. Especially during a time in which divisions between Israel and the Diaspora concern us all, Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) at camp provide an important relationship-building touchpoint that is more essential than ever. The Jewish Agency for Israel is currently training these Shlichim, and we’re excited to welcome a record number of Israelis to Jewish camps across North America this summer. FJC continues our vigorous advocacy for the preservation of the State Department’s J-1 Visa Camp Counselor Program, and will reaffirm our support in partnership with the American Camp Association during “Camp on Capitol Hill Day” in Washington DC in early May.
Safety and security of campers and staff remains foremost on our minds. Just as one might integrate new traditions or readings into their Passover Seder each year to amplify its meaning, camps continuously work to strengthen and improve their own security measures every summer. As we head into Summer 2019 in this post-Pittsburgh world, camps have heightened their safety protocols. I’ve just returned from a one-day convening by the Secure Community Network, the security arm of Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, highlighting work that aims to prevent, limit, and respond to possible incidents. We heard from Department of Homeland Security and FBI experts, as well as the Security Directors of key local Jewish Federation partners. FJC has made recommended security resources available to camp professionals and lay leaders, and strongly encourages meeting with local law enforcement officials prior to the start of camp.
Jewish camp professionals are sincerely committed to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of their entire camp community. Just as our understanding of the Passover story deepens with each passing year, the rising and necessary visibility of the #MeToo movement – as well as movements to de-stigmatize and support issues around mental health – enable us to approach these priorities with renewed energy and important new perspectives. We’re proud to have joined with the Safety Equity Respect Coalition, and encourage camps to make use of their resources in evaluating and improving their camp culture around issues of gender, sexuality, and power.
In this spirit, camps are also actively working to better support the mental health needs of both campers and staff. With the generous support of Neshamot Women’s Impact Philanthropy of UJA Federation of NY, FJC facilitated the “Mental Health & Thriving at Camp Train-the-Trainer Symposium” for New York-area camps last month. Additionally, members of FJC’s Midwest Camp Leadership Network (MCLN) recently met in Chicago for a day of professional training on MESH (mental, emotional, and social health). At both events, camp professionals embraced strategies to support their staff in better aiding campers and peers – and developed the skills to become more resilient in their own their self-care. Materials from the trainings, and additional resources, are available to the field on FJC’s online resource bank, Campopedia.
As we approach both Passover and Summer 2019, we reflect on the meaningful ways Judaism invites us to honor our sacred traditions year after year, while simultaneously encouraging our ongoing growth and change. Together, we will sustain the strength and beauty of Jewish camp, while continuing to promote evolution and innovation for generations to come.
I wish you and your family a wonderful Zissen Pesach, filled with cherished traditions and energizing new perspectives.