Incubating the Future of Jewish Camps

A few weeks ago we received a letter from a third grader in St. Louis named Matthew.  In part, it read:

I think that there should be a Jewish gymnastics camp… I’m a serious gymnast and also go to a Jewish day school and this would allow me to focus on both my sport and my religion at the same time.”

There are a lot of children like Matthew in North America who have a deep passion for an activity such as gymnastics, or music, or tennis, or robotics.  Eight years ago we observed a growing trend of families choosing non-Jewish summer camps and programs, allowing their children the opportunity to explore specialty experiences.  Consistent with Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) mission – to increase the number of children participating in transformative summers at Jewish camp – we felt strongly that families should not have to choose one or the other.  We wanted to make available the opportunity to provide life changing Jewish summer experience to children who also had a special passion they wanted to pursue.

In 2008, the Specialty Camps Incubator was created, funded generously by the Jim Joseph Foundation, to efficiently create and launch camps with a Jewish mission and educational content plus a concentrated focus on specific activity.  The first five camps opened successfully in 2010.  Then we did it again with four new overnight camps through Specialty Camp Incubator II in 2014, funded by Jim Joseph and the AVI CHAI Foundation.  We have also helped open four new specialty day camps through our Specialty Day Camp Incubator with the UJA-Federation of New York in 2015.  This summer, we will also help launch of two new overnight camps on the west coast – Ramah Northern California and URJ 6 Points Sports California – as part of our Accelerator program, funded by AVI CHAI.

To date, more than 5,000 unique campers have been served by these new camps, almost two thirds of whom would not otherwise have attended Jewish camp.

Building on the incredible success of these initiatives, we were thrilled to announce last month the establishment of Specialty Camp Incubator III, again generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation.  Through this program, we will help launch another four specialty camps to open in Summer 2018.

I am proud of how far the field has come in just a few short years. These innovative camps have proven themselves to be models of excellence for the Jewish camping field, reaching new demographics and interest groups and embarking on new approaches to Jewish experiential education.  Not yet bound by the rituals and history that often dictate customs at traditional camps, these new camps are creating traditions from the ground up that are based in key values unique to their camp’s mission, and have already made an indelible impact on hundreds of campers, all of them just like Matthew.

These new camps have also helped us to see what the future of camping can truly look like.  And I can tell you, the future is only getting brighter.

PS:  We are seeking exciting, innovative, and engaging concepts for these next four camps.  Have a great idea?  The RFP is now available and we are accepting submission through July 15, 2016.  Know someone who has always dreamed of opening a specialty camp? Send this post to them.  The more ideas, the better.

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.
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