Jeremy J. Fingerman

Light Amid Darkness

This past week I was honored to represent Foundation for Jewish Camp at the United Nations General Assembly special plenary session entitled “Combating Antisemitism and Other Forms of Racism and Hate:  The Challenges of Teaching Tolerance and Respect in the Digital Age.”

Opening the session UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared that we must come together “to tackle the tsunami of hatred that is so visible and violent across the world today“ and urged everyone to focus on social unity.

The Secretary General then welcomed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, California where a gunman burst into the synagogue on the final day of Passover this year killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounding three others, including the Rabbi who lost his right index finger.

Rabbi Goldstein shared powerful teachings from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, reminding us that we must fight darkness not with additional darkness, but with light.  “We must flood the internet to encourage people to do random acts of kindness,” Goldstein declared.  By physically placing a dollar into a charity box at the rostrum, the rabbi urged every individual to appreciate the sacredness of even one act of goodness and kindness.

Over seventy years ago, when the UN was first established, who would have imagined a Chabad Rabbi addressing its General Assembly?  At the same time, over seventy years after the Holocaust, who would have imagined that antisemitism would now rear its ugly head at such high levels yet again?

It was timely for this to be taught publicly now in the impressive and august chamber of the UN. This coming Friday night – the 3rd of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar – we will commemorate the Rebbe’s 25th yahrzeit.  It is hard to fathom all that has transpired during these 25 years, in all aspects of our lives: as individuals, as a Jewish community, and the world as a whole.

Interestingly, with each passing year more people discover the relevance and vitality of the Rebbe’s teachings. But not only for matters of global society debated in the halls of the U.N., but also regarding fundamentals of our communal structures and family lives.

Before each summer, the Rebbe taught of the tremendous responsibility shared by camp counselors and administrators as educators of the next generation, and that education takes place in nature, on the sports field, on the lake, and in simple conversations in the bunk.

The Rebbe understood the powerful impact of camp on the lives of Jewish young people, and spoke extensively about the importance of the camp experience. Not only did he speak, but he translated his words into action.  The Rebbe left his Crown Heights neighborhood only for two reasons:  to visit the gravesite of his father-in-law in Queens, and to travel to upstate New York to visit the Chabad camps.

Could there be a more demonstrable show of support for the importance of Jewish camp and the central role it plays in our communal life?

The Rebbe’s teachings are particularly relevant this summer, as I know many camps are discussing the rise in antisemitism we are experiencing.  Camp communities – away from the everyday hustle and bustle of life – explore current events together, learning from each other, testing assumptions, challenging positions, and developing their ability to consider their place in the world.  In this way, camps play a seemingly contradictory but incredibly powerful role in the lives of Jewish young people:  While providing them with a refuge from the secular world, they provide perspective, insight, and strength to proactively engage with it.

Indeed, I am privileged to travel across North America during the summer to witness first-hand the depth of thinking, intentionality, and pride in Jewish identity that camps facilitate in Jewish young people. While the challenges facing the global Jewish community currently are significant, I can say without a doubt that today’s happy Jewish campers are tomorrow’s proud Jewish leaders – and they will be a formidable force for good.

As part of our work for the Jewish future, we will engage with the Rebbe’s trailblazing and insightful studies, to analyze, challenge and consider new horizons.  And as we reflect on the Rebbe’s memory and teachings on the occasion of his 25th yahrzeit, we at Jewish camps will continue to tackle contemporary issues within our safe, supportive embrace.

May camp communities not fear the darkness, but continue to be beacons of light to illuminate our entire world.

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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