I recently returned from my second trip to Israel since October 7th – this time to help welcome my first grandchild into the Jewish people at his Brit Milah. I had not been fully prepared for how emotional I would feel holding little Yitzchak Yosef, a beacon of radiance and possibility during these dark and difficult days. While we often describe our work at Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) as L’dor v’Dor – from generation to generation – this term has new, profound meaning for me.
During our trip, when not helping our daughter and son-in-law, my wife and I did take time to experience and absorb the incredible Israeli spirit of volunteerism and resilience. We traveled to a make-shift army base near Gaza one evening with Koach Tzvika to help serve a festive BBQ meal to IDF troops. There, I met an IDF reserve officer who had served as a shaliach (emissary) to one of our camps for seven consecutive years! He spoke glowingly of the positive impact Jewish camp had on him and now on his young family. While we had come to give strength to the Israelis, his passion gave me strength and inspiration to redouble FJC’s important work – fostering a deep, enduring connection to Israel, strengthening Jewish identity, and developing Jewish leadership.
To that end, I am proud to announce that FJC has initially secured over $1 million in new grants for our Israel Emergency Response Plan as we help camps prepare for summer 2024:
- Staffing: With many young Israelis continuing to serve in the army, and the extension of the academic year in Israel, camps must be prepared for a reduction in the number of shlichim that will be able to participate in North American camps this coming summer. With new funding and together with global partners, we will soon launch a new Camp Staff Ambassador Program to help recruit national and international Jewish staff members for camp this summer.
- Security: Due to the growing level of antisemitism around the world, camps must enhance their security preparations for this summer. We have received an initial grant to help a select number of day camps hire additional security personnel, and we continue to seek additional funding for capital upgrades, increased staffing, and updated training.
- Israel Education: Having visited Israel recently, I cannot underscore enough the value and importance of seeing and experiencing the situation on the ground firsthand. Meeting with Israelis and hearing their stories and bearing witness in person are so important for all educators and leaders of Jewish institutions, especially camps. In February, FJC will lead two missions to Israel for Jewish camp leaders and educators in partnership with The Jewish Education Project. We have also been awarded an initial grant to ensure camps have updated resources and training to facilitate thoughtful, meaningful, and age-appropriate Israel content, education, and programs.
- Mental Health and Wellness: Already an area of focus for FJC at camps for several years, we have secured additional support for our upcoming Jewish Youth Mental Health Conference taking place March 3-4 in New York City. Given the war, the conference takes on added timeliness; sessions will be offered that address added mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health issues and needs that will impact Jewish camps, campers, staff, and their families – North American and Israeli – this summer.
This is only the beginning of our urgent preparation for this summer. As we learn in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers, 2:15-16): “The day is short and the work is plentiful…It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it…”
FJC will continue to raise funds to support our Israel Emergency Response Plan for camps and I welcome conversations to discuss your involvement in this effort. Thank you for your continued interest and partnership. We will keep you updated on our progress.
Today marks the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Shevat. We pray that this new month will herald positive news of peace and wellbeing for us, for Israel, and for the entire world. Am Yisrael Chai.