Jeremy J. Fingerman

Holy Camps, Holy Communities

This coming Shabbat we will read Parshat Terumah with the following charge from Gd:

V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham,

Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

While traveling through the wilderness, the Israelites come together to build a gathering place for ritual and celebration. Gd provides intricate instructions in order to make the sanctuary come to life as a place where Gd will dwell among the people.

This reminds me of our role day-to-day — each of us individually and collectively — to build our kehilah kedosha, our holy community.  For so many, Jewish camp may be that modern day mishkan, the gathering place for building and strengthening our Jewish community for today and tomorrow.

For me, one of the key ingredients that make Jewish camp a holy community is our work in making camp accessible, welcoming, and accepting for all Jews.

In order to truly be inclusive for all, Jewish camps must be accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds. This means that dining halls and bunks need ramps, camps need dedicated inclusion specialists, camp staff needs training and we need to recruit, admit and hire people with disabilities to all levels of camp. Programming must be flexible and built with modifications for a range of needs and our language and planning must take into account diverse identities. This also means we need to listen to a wide range of parents, campers and leaders — to continually adapt, evolve, and improve.

I am very proud of our work over the last four years to help Jewish camps become more inclusive of campers and staff from across the spectrum. FJC’s Inclusion Initiative has doubled the number of the number of campers with disabilities to over 5,000 participants in summer 2017. Through our Community of Practice, webinars, mentoring, and helpful resources have aided 68 overnight camps become more inclusive. FJC programs have enabled camps to adapt facilities and programming for the benefit of the entire camp community.

Next month at FJC’s biennial Leaders Assembly in Baltimore we are offering outstanding sessions for Jewish camp and communal professionals and lay leaders, featuring guidance from a range of experts in the inclusion field. We have observed that as camps expand and grow to include campers and staff of all abilities, they improve camper care across the board. The more people with disabilities welcomed at our camps, the kinder and more sensitive our entire camp community.

Building a holy sanctuary in today’s world requires collective, intentional work to include our diverse Jewish community. Fortunately, Jewish camps across North America are doing just that, helping us create a more vibrant, inclusive Jewish future.

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.