Jeremy J. Fingerman

The Freedom of Camp

This summer over 180,000 chanichim (campers) and madrichim (counselors) will experience an important sense of freedom and independence that only camp provides. Unplugged from devices, today’s campers will find freedom from their screens and social media, substituted by endless days immersed outdoors in nature, the joy of connecting in person more deeply, and the ability to simply be themselves. Camp is the place where they will explore, learn, and discover their true selves. They need this time to be free.

As we prepare to gather for the Passover Seder and to celebrate our Festival of Freedom, I have been thinking about where we were three years ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic, and how far we have come.

Three years later, we will celebrate the opening of summer camps once again in less than 100 days!

Unfortunately, finding freedom at camp is not as easy for everyone as it sounds. Even before the pandemic – but pronounced even more so as a result – the mental health crisis continues to grow. We know that for chanichim and madrichim who may be suffering, the freedom of camp can be life-changing. With proper preparation, resources, and supervision, camps can provide these young people with the type of freedom that they do not experience during the rest of the year, developing in them the independence, resilience, and confidence they so desperately need.

I am very proud of FJC’s Yedid Nefesh (Beloved Soul) Mental Health Initiative, made possible thanks to the generous and expanded support of The Marcus Foundation, and joined by the UJA-Federation and the Jewish Communal Fund of New York, and by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. As a result, FJC has now awarded grants to 102 Jewish day and overnight camps, nearly one-third of our network across North America. Through this effort, FJC provides camps funding for three years to hire mental health professionals, trainings for their seasonal staff, and networking as a community of practice to help learn, refine, and adapt their efforts.

Our Satisfaction Insights surveys of this past summer from over 10,000 campers and 3,500 counselors confirm the overwhelming challenges facing our camp communities and through the data we have been able to discern the positive impact Yedid Nefesh has already made. We know the dedicated camp professionals will continue to work arduously to address the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health (MESSH) challenges confronting our young people today.

These past three years have been quite a marathon. I remain filled with admiration and appreciation for our camp professionals and for all of you who support them. Together, let us work to ensure that all Jewish children will be able to feel a wonderful sense of freedom this summer at camp.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Chag Sameach and a Zissen Pesach – a wonderful celebration of our cherished freedom.

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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