Jeremy J. Fingerman

To New Beginnings

Photo of a sign at a Jewish summer camp, courtesy of Foundation for Jewish Camp

As we mark the new Hebrew month of Iyar, I am thinking a lot about new beginnings.

40 years ago next week, I joined in the academic procession to receive my undergraduate degree from Columbia University. The skies were overcast and the temperature a bit chilly. Yet the spirit of pride, gratitude, and optimism filled the air. I cherish my memories from that day celebrated with family and friends.

We refer appropriately to university graduations as “commencement,” recognizing both the achievement of an important milestone and the launchpad for new beginnings.

With great disappointment I note that my alma mater has joined the growing list of universities canceling this year’s commencement exercises. I empathize with those thousands of college seniors who won’t experience the formal pomp and circumstance of commencement ceremonies marking their achievements.

Here at Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), we are at the cusp of a new summer camp season. I am encouraged that over 25,000 college-aged young adults (a record number!) will move from their campuses – some after experiencing antisemitism, hatred, and fear – to their Jewish camps – filled with the spirit of belonging, care, and joy. Each in their own way, these summer camps become “bubbles,” providing an island of respite and decompression, especially for college-aged staff, who so desperately need this relief.

We know summers at camp better prepare both chanichim (campers) and madrichim (counselors) for their future, building self-awareness, motivation, empathy, and connection to community. In powerful ways, camp experiences provide critical support for our mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health (MESSH), so necessary to navigate through our world today.

Thinking back 40 years ago, I had the honor and privilege to participate in the Baccalaureate Ceremony, a multi-faith celebration preceding undergraduate commencement. I recited a famous passage from the prophet Micah 6:8:

“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, And what GOD requires of you: Only to do justice, And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God”

These words have remained with me as a guide ever since that day. I hope they might be meaningful and helpful to all of us as we navigate through these challenging times. Our Jewish camps try to model these very values of justice, kindness, humility, and goodness, every single day. Jewish camps make mensches, and the world could certainly use many more of these right now.

Each new life phase, new month, and new day offers the chance to begin anew. While some formal commencement ceremonies have been canceled, we offer the graduates a charge: to go forth with joy, kindness, and curiosity, to embrace new beginnings.

Chodesh Tov – may the new month be filled with goodness.

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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