The secret sauce of camp, and beyond

When I visited our Foundation’s 13th annual Cornerstone Seminar a few weeks ago, I ran into a faculty member who happened to be the daughter of my own camp counselor from 38 years ago! I remember so clearly that counselor’s influence on me; he was a role model and an inspiration as I began to form my own path in life. The encouraging word. The patience exhibited. The aspiration provided. Imagine the power of seeing his daughter now influencing another generation of campers and counselors.

We often talk about the tens of thousands of campers who experience Jewish camps each summer. We don’t talk enough about the 11,000+ college-aged bunk counselors. They serve as the inspiration, the role models, the transmitters of the camp spirit. Bunk counselors are the secret sauce of Jewish camp; they make the magic happen.

Counselors set the tone for their campers’ experience. Campers look to their bunk counselors for guidance, entertainment, and support throughout the summer. During this experience, counselors gain skills in responsibility, leadership, problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.

Our Foundation believes we should be doing all we can to help these young counselors hone these skills so they can utilize them beyond the bunk. We want to encourage them to build up their Jewish community on their college campus and beyond. Our research conclusively shows that after spending summers in the Jewish camp environment, campers and counselors are far more likely to be engaged in Jewish life, on a whole variety of measures. Our community must capitalize on these tremendous assets!

Even as this summer is just beginning, we must turn our attention to the end of the summer, when these college-aged counselors will head back to their college campus with a renewed connection to their Judaism and a sharpened set of community building skills. This is a prime opportunity for us keep these young people engaged in Jewish life beyond the camp environment.

Our Cornerstone Fellows, 275 strong, participated in sessions called, “Zoom Out” in which they consider how their experience at camp informs their personal Jewish journey and their engagement post-camp. We have also started conversations with Hillel International about how we bring the camp experience back to the college campus.

The 11,000+ college age counselors play a vital role at camp. But even more, bunk counselors could be the secret sauce for invigorating Jewish communal life.

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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