Modeling Kindness

Campers and staff at URJ Camp Harlam celebrating Shabbat (Image from FJC)

The themes of kindness and gratitude emphasized in this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Balak, resonate deeply with me. The parsha, from the Book of Numbers, contains a familiar blessing: “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov Mishkenotecha Yisrael”, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” While traveling in the desert for 40 years, the Israelite encampment modeled organization (by tribe), kindness (neighborliness), and joyful service (construction of the temporary Mishkan enabling Hashem to dwell among them). Hence the blessing from Balak.

We currently live in a world of confusion and disarray; we hardly have time to process one upsetting or scary event before the news cycle changes yet again with new added pressures. To help us navigate through these challenging times, our Jewish summer camps provide a model for organization, kindness, and joy. Camp professionals across North America have remained focused on providing a safe, healthy, and joyous experience for all. Like schoolteachers, they serve on the front lines caring for children every day, working hard to create an environment and culture filled with kindness, community, and love for Judaism.

We often say Jewish camps are laboratories for “making mensches” and it is because great forethought and intentionality is put into their construction. Our new Character Development research, funded generously by the John Templeton Foundation, will allow us to study character development in Jewish camps over the next three years to help us enhance this critical aspect of our work.

On Tuesday, July 19th, FJC will join with the American Camp Association to celebrate “Camp Kindness Day”, a day to remind all of us of the importance of modeling kindness, compassion, and inclusion in our lives every day. Camps imbue these values so well already as part of the powerful communal experience.

Even more, Jewish camps model how being a mensch comes to life for our next generation. Despite ongoing challenges, our camp professionals have worked hard this summer – Mah Tovu – to ensure more kids enjoy time outdoors, forge lifelong friendships, and connect with joyous Judaism.

In the spirit of Camp Kindness Day, we have an opportunity to offer well-deserved words of appreciation to the camp professionals who care for our chanichim (campers) and madrichim (young adult counselors). Let all of us – parents, alumni, donors, Jewish professionals and advocates – show kindness and appreciation to all the camp professionals in our lives and give them the koach (strength) they need to finish this challenging yet rewarding and meaningful summer for all.

They truly deserve our admiration, appreciation, and support.

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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