The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) supports and advocates for over 150 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps of all denominations across North America. Our mission unifies and galvanizes the field of Jewish overnight camp and significantly increases the number of children participating in transformative summers at Jewish camp, assuring a vibrant North American Jewish community.
Foundation for Jewish Camp Rolls Out New Initiative to Address Issues of Gender, Sex and Power Dynamics in Camp Community
“Shmira Initiative” kickstarts funding for training, programming and resource creation for summer 2018
BALTIMORE – As more than 750 Jewish summer camp professionals, educators, philanthropists and communal leaders gathered on March 18 for Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) seventh biennial Leaders Assembly, FJC unveiled a new initiative to prevent harassment and abuse, sexist language and behavior in the camp community.
The “Shmira Initiative” aims to change camp culture on all levels, implementing a shift in staff programming, training, policy and enforcement around issues of gender, sex and power. Shmira, in Hebrew and in the vernacular of Jewish summer camp, means guard duty, embodying the social and individual responsibility every community member has to ensure a safe environment.
“The #MeToo movement has emboldened victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward and tell their stories, shining a new spotlight on crimes of child abuse. Through the ‘Shmira Initiative,’ our camps and communities will be better equipped to address these issues head on, with immediate action in conjunction with parents and law enforcement authorities,” said Marina Lewin, Chief Operating Officer of Foundation for Jewish Camp. “Jewish institutions have a chance to define their prevention and response plans – and lead the discussion on culture change in our community. Jewish camp must be a safe space. Together, we can build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement to safeguard our community.”
The goals of the initiative include:
Educating and training Jewish camp staff on prevention
Identification and reporting of sexual misconduct at camp
Providing resources and training to camp directors and boards concerning policies for preventing and confronting sexual harassment in the workplace
Creating programs and materials to change camp culture and language around sexuality and gender expression
FJC will invest an initial $100,000 to support the development of the initiative’s primary components, including:
Training for Counselors and Staff – FJC will offer regional camp staff trainings in advance of this summer and next. Throughout the year on an ongoing basis, materials and trainings will be incorporated into the curriculum of FJC’s professional development and leadership programs, including Cornerstone Fellowships (for returning counselors), Yitro Leadership Program (for assistant and associate directors), and Executive Leadership Institute (ELI).
Virtual Learning for Jewish Camp and Movement Leadership – Beginning earlier this year, FJC is hosting a webinar training series on procedures regarding sexual harassment reporting, intervention and prevention, with leading experts. Targeted to support camp staff in advance of summer 2018, this webinar series is open to camp directors and lay leaders focusing on the legal and human resources aspects of sexual harassment among adults.
Education and Culture Change for Campers – FJC staff will work with experts to develop a national campaign to continue the discussion around issues of gender, sex and power in the camp community. The campaign will highlight the cultural changes FJC is promoting in camps, including posters and stickers for bunks, and online resources including talking points for parents to get involved. Messages will support campers and counselors in calling out sexual pressure and misconduct, as well as homophobic language and bullying with the goal of building a common language of consent and care at camp.
The “Shmira Initiative” was announced on the first night of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leader’s Assembly. The announcement was accompanied by a panel discussion on the issues highlighted by the initiative moderated by new FJC board chair Julie Beren Platt; and featuring Lisa Eisen, Vice President at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation; Rachel Garbow Monroe, President and CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; and Deborah Meyer, CEO of Moving Traditions.
Furthering its leadership on these issues, FJC has also joined the recently established Partnership for Jewish Communal Life, with CEO Jeremy J. Fingerman serving on the steering committee. The partnership’s aim is to ensure that safe, respectful and equitable workplaces and communal spaces become universal in Jewish life and that sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and their related abuses of power, are no longer tolerated in the Jewish community.
About Foundation for Jewish Camp
Founded in 1998, Foundation for Jewish Camp is a catalyst for change throughout the field of Jewish Camp. FJC trains and inspires camp leaders, expands access to Jewish summers—and increases demand. FJC’s work enhances the Jewish impact of those summers, developing programs to strengthen camps and summer experiences across the Jewish spectrum in North America—including One Happy Camper®, which has enabled tens of thousands of young people to experience Jewish summers. Further, FJC elevates Jewish camp on the cultural and philanthropic agenda. The Foundation for Jewish Camp has grown to work with approximately 300 day and overnight camps who serve more than 200,000 youth, teens and college-aged counselors across North America each summer. Please visit jewishcamp.org and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Here at Foundation for Jewish Camp we are excited and gearing up for Leaders Assembly 2018. We are thrilled to welcome close to 800 leaders in the camping community to Baltimore to see how we might move the field forward.
This week we start reading the book of Leviticus. It is fraught with information about sacrifices that can seem meaningless to the modern experience. In our Torah portion we read that when a leader sins, he brings a he-goat as a sacrifice (Leviticus 4:22-26). This is in contrast to a commoner who is charged to bring a she-goat or a lamb in the same circumstance (Leviticus 4:27-35). What is the purpose of the commoner and the leader bringing two different offerings? What is the reason that we allow the commoner to bring either a goat or a lamb?
To explain, I wanted to share with you a great custom I heard a couple of years ago quoted in the name of Danny Siegel. Synagogues put out two color cups for their Kiddush receptions after services. The Rabbi announces that all new comers are invited to partake of the blue cups, so that all of the people with the white cups know to whom they should introduce themselves. This custom allows the community to be welcoming without forcing the newcomers to feel like outsiders; you are always welcome to pass and take a white cup.
Similarly, in our week’s portion, we read that the commoners had the option of which sacrifice they wanted to bring. In either case, the priest would know they were outsiders, but that information need not be public. The outsiders could choose to pass and bring a goat.
All too often, when we make an effort to bring people in, it has the reverse effect of indicating them as outsiders. Camp is an amazing gateway for people to experience belonging to the Jewish community. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones this week in Baltimore. I have no doubt that together we will find new ways to make people feel welcome in our community. Surely, there is no great sacrifice in making our community more inclusive.
We can’t wait to see you in Baltimore. #Leaders2018
We met at the URJ Kutz Camp in 2010 at NFTY Mechina, when we were both serving on regional board.
Was it love right away?
Absolutely not! It took summers of friendship to finally come around to the idea that maybe, just maybe, everything we had been looking for in a partner was right there in front of us all along. Austin figured it out much faster than Dori did…then he had to convince her it was a good idea. Here we are, and she has to admit he was right!
Do you find that your time at camp has influenced your relationship/marriage/family?
Camp has served as the foundation for who each of us are, as well as the underpinning of our life’s work. Austin is studying to be a rabbi and Dori is the NFTY Ohio Valley Regional Advisor, and we both live out the values that Jewish camp taught us every single day. As a couple, we speak the language of Jewish camp in our home, and are shaped as a couple by our shared experiences at camp and our mutual love of the values and purpose that guides us.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
At the end of each summer, we had invested the time in our friendship to grow even closer, and ensure that it was always a “l’hitraot,” a “see you later,” and never a “goodbye”. It was on our way to a summer at camp that Austin asked Dori to marry him and to make sure that that summer would last a lifetime.
Did you have any camp themed thing at your wedding?
Our wedding, which will be in May, is going to take place at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) and will be entirely camp themed! From a Maccabiah rehearsal dinner to a campfire and s’mores, we have found countless ways to show our family and friends just how important our camp experiences were to crafting who we are. #ZootFamilyCamp
Will you send your kids to camp?
Camp made us who we are, and we are so excited to one day share that with our children, who will have camp to thank for helping us to start our family.
You’re starting to think about summertime and what on earth you’re going to do with the kids for two plus months—err—we mean, how to provide your darlings with a meaningful and fun summer experience. And if it gets them out of the house? Win-win. Maybe you’ve only heard about Jewish summer camp in passing. Maybe you or your partner already think it’s a great idea but one of you isn’t quite sold.
Here’s what you need to know about how Jewish day camp can be an especially good fit for interfaith families. That’s not to say that camp is right for every kid or that every camp is right for every family. InterfaithFamily—the experts on, well, interfaith families, and Foundation for Jewish Camp—the experts on, you guessed it, Jewish camp, have teamed up to give you the best tips, tools and resources for making this decision for your family. Here are the top five things we think you should know.
1. Local experiences = local friendships.
Because Jewish day camps are located much closer to home than Jewish overnight camps, the friends your child makes at camp are also close to home, making it that much easier for Jewish day camp friendships to last throughout the year. Likewise, because many Jewish day camps are tied to host organizations like JCCs, you may find your family invited to different program offerings at a conveniently located host organization throughout the year. These events can offer you and your family an entry portal into Jewish life and a Jewish community that aligns with your family’s priorities.For example, the 14th Street Y’s New Country Day Camp invites families to “Pause/Play Saturdays” throughout the winter at the Y building. Pause/Play is a very inclusive way to spend Shabbat as a family, with opportunities for whole families to celebrate Shabbat and/or the weekend. Next on their schedule? The Pause/Play Spring Carnival which includes a puppet show about a little girl with one Jewish grandmother and one Chinese grandmother.
2. You have options.
When it comes to Jewish day camps, there is a diverse spectrum of choices. There are Chabad camps, JCC camps, Conservative and Reform movement camps, independent camps and synagogue camps. The camps vary widely in their approach to welcoming interfaith families. In addition to the different affiliations, Jewish day camps range in size, program, facility and mission.You might be thinking, great, more options. Where do I begin? Check out websites for Foundation for Jewish Camp, the American Camp Association and the Jewish Community Center Association to learn more about the different kinds of Jewish day camp options available to you and your family.
3. Test the waters on your own timeline.
Many Jewish day camps offer short (one or two weeks) and flexible (all different points throughout the summer) sessions so that your child can try out the experience without a serious time or monetary commitment. You could even try multiple camp programs in one summer. You might quickly find, however, that you’ve found the right fit for your family, and you’ll want to stay put.One parent from Georgia shared with us, “We love In The City Camp!! Our 6-year-old daughter had the best experience: amazing counselors, awesome staff and the campers are just good kids. The experience Eileen and her staff give is empowering, fun and family-oriented. I’ve never seen our daughter happier. The breadth of activities, the encouragement of the counselors to get kids to try new stuff, the field trips and the overall sense of community is unparalleled. As a Jewish-Catholic family that hasn’t quite decided our path toward religious education, the exposure to Judaism was a perfect taste for our daughter without being over the top.”
4. Jewish day camp is for the whole family.
When you send a child to overnight camp, you say goodbye at the bus stop and don’t necessarily see them again until visiting day, but day campers come home each and every day. You’ll get to hear what they’re actually doing on a daily basis—not just when that weekly postcard comes in the mail with a quickly scrawled “I’m having fun!”You’ll also see the same group of parents at pick-up and drop-off. In this way, the Jewish day camp experience impacts the whole family, and often, the grown-ups at the bus stops make friends just as easily as the campers do. Maya R., a parent whose child attends day camp in Brooklyn, NY, says “Getting involved with Sprout Brooklyn feels like joining a wonderful family.”
5. It will help prepare you for overnight camp.
Many Jewish day camps have ties to Jewish overnight camps such as the new B’nai B’rith (BB) program in Portland, Oregon, which is opening in summer 2018 after the years of success and meaningful Jewish summers provided by the overnight camp widely known as BB Camp. Older day campers are often provided “dip-your-toes-in” experiences at partnering overnight camps. Liz Broberg, Day Camp and Youth Engagement Director at BB Camp says that day camp offers a very easy entry point for Jewish interfaith families “because the ‘Jewishness’ is more integrated through the values practiced than a study of Torah or a celebration of a specific holiday.”
She explains that the Jewish values curriculum, which both the overnight and day camp use, “is accessible and relatable to everyone, whatever your faith or affiliation. It infuses Jewish values liketikkun olam(repairing the world), kehillah (community),simcha(joy), manhigut(leadership) and more into the everyday camp culture. These are values that many parents agree are important for their children to learn and practice. This makes it very easy for interfaith families to connect with the content and feel comfortable in a Jewish environment.”
I have a memory of sitting at home with my mom one Saturday morning, chatting over bagels and shmear. The sun was streaming in through the windows, and though it was winter outside, I couldn’t stop thinking about camp. I was 12-years- old, and longing for summer. I just wanted to go back to camp.
At some point toward the end of my bagel and seventh recounting or so of all the things that I missed about my Jewish overnight camp, I wondered aloud about people my age with disabilities. There had been a few campers with disabilities at camp, but I knew from school that “a few” was likely not representative of a larger need. Where did Jewish children with disabilities or other special needs spend their summers? Did they get to go to camp too? My mom said, “Maybe one day you’ll run a camp that could meet everyone’s needs.”
Years later I became the director of New Country Day Camp (2013-2017), the largest summer program of the 14th Street Y serving nearly 800 campers and their families each summer. During staff orientation one summer my team and I read the story of Abraham and Sarah’s tent. We learned about how their tent was open on all four sides in order to invite and meet the needs of all passersby in the expansive desert.
We asked questions based on our own childhoods:
Why had children with disabilities been separated in different classrooms, different schools?
Why had there not been more accommodations available at our own camps?
With the support of UJA-Federation of New York and Foundation for Jewish Camp, we set out on a mission to welcome every camper and every family who wanted to be a part of our camp community. The only issue was that this new endeavor worried our stakeholders immensely.
Not all of our staff held degrees in education, nor did they have the proper training or the skills to accommodate campers who were potentially so different from our standard demographic. What made us think that we could handle this critical undertaking?
The answer? Torah, actually. Abraham and Sarah.
They didn’t have any special training either. But what they did have was just the desire to include and a willingness to find a way.
In September 2017, I left the 14th Street Y to pursue new opportunities at FJC as Director of Day Camp Initiatives otherwise known as, “the day camp person”. By the time I left, New Country Day Camp was already accommodating and providing extra services to integrate a camper population of 60+ children & staff with disabilities and other special needs into the regular camp program.
As I was recently presenting the 2017 Day Camp Census to a group of new JCC day camp professionals, someone inquired about the steady decline in the “total number of special needs programs” since 2015. As a group, we wondered why. Was it possibly due to an increase in the number of inclusive camps versus older stand-alone programs?
I hope so, but as a field we still have work to do to fully include ALL Jewish children and adults who want to attend, and work for our camp communities.
As Rabbi Tarfon teaches in Pirke Avot (2:21), “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
It’s an undeniable fact that Purim is the most exhilarating out of all the Jewish holidays!
There is so much going on – people are booing to the sound of Haman’s name during Megillah reading; driving around town on a 24 hour sugar high while exchanging Mishloach Manot; and rejoicing in the story of Megillat Esther and the freedom of The Jewish people. On top of all of that excitement, we get to do it all in costume!
Here are FIVE camp inspired costumes to wear this Purim to keep your summer home front and center!
1. The Lifeguard
Grab your towel and head down to the lake for free swim – Just remember to yell loudly at buddy call!
When my daughter, Ellie, was four-years-old, she sat on the floor of my office after camp one day recounting pretty much every second of her day. I asked her how her lunch was. She told me it was great and then decided she had to tell me what everyone else in her group had for lunch, as well. “Hannah had a bagel, Noah had mac and cheese, Nathan ate in his belly, and Shira had hummus.” The fact that Nathan got his lunch through a feeding tube was no more newsworthy than any other aspect of her day – it was just another detail.
On a different, yet very typical, day at Camp JCC, we thought it would be a great idea to do an inter-generational program. We invited some senior adults to come to talk to our campers about the kinds of games they played when they were young. Someone’s lovely Grandma stood in the front of the room and talked about a game that she had played using wooden sticks. In the back of the room, Jason happily paced around. Someone’s lovely Grandma said to a counselor, “If that boy can’t behave himself and sit down, then you need to take him out of the room.” Before the counselor could get out a syllable, another camper stood up and said, “That’s Jason! He has a hard time listening when he is sitting still and when he walks around he can listen better. You can’t make him leave!” And it didn’t end there. Campers from Jason’s group marched into the Camp Director’s office and demanded, “How can you invite people here who are so mean to Jason?”
“Hinei ma tov u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad.” – “Behold how good and pleasant it is when all people live together as one.” (Psalm 133)
“Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.” – “All of Israel are responsible for each other” (Shevuot 39a)
Camp JCC, and the entire Bender JCC of Greater Washington, operates under these Jewish – and human – values always. For us, inclusion is not a program or a choice. It is not a section in the program guide. It is a way of operating. Recently, I was part of a gathering of Jewish Community Center professionals who are working to ensure that JCC’s across the country have the capacity to be fully inclusive.
One of the questions we asked ourselves was, “What is the vision we have for the kind of people we want to come out of our JCC’s and what kind of human being do we want to nurture here?” We have already seen it: in Ellie and in Jason’s friends and advocates. They have internalized the knowledge that we all belong. And by “all” I don’t just mean people with disabilities – I mean all. When kids see full acceptance of others they learn that others will fully accept them, as well. In broader society we have lately been seeing the devastating effects on our young people when they don’t feel loved and accepted.
Camp JCC has been fully inclusive of campers with a full range of disabilities since 1979. We became inclusive because one amazing woman, Sara Portman Milner, – believed that we should be. It wasn’t until over a decade later that inclusivity became the law under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to the law being enacted, Camp JCC also decided that we were not going to charge families extra for the extra support we were giving to their children.
We would make sure camper got what they needed. We would be a community and we would all be responsible for one another. I was hired as an inclusion counselor in our teen travel camp in 1986. It was going to be a fun summer job for a couple of summers. This summer will be my 33rd season. Although the thought of doing “something else” has crossed my mind once or twice, it is always only a fleeting thought. I can’t imagine giving up the chance – for eight weeks a year – to be part of a microcosm of what the world could be.
I do not fault someone’s lovely Grandma for her lack of understanding about children who think and act differently. She grew up during a time where different was not acceptable. Because of Camp JCC, I know that in sixty years, if Ellie is someone’s lovely Grandma, she will embrace and understand Jason’s unique way of listening while she tells her story.
She will love and appreciate the people in her life for all that they are – because of their green hair, or the unique way they see the world, or who they love – not in spite of those things.
“The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” –Exodus 18: 18-19
Upon learning that Moses, his son-in-law, was leading the Israelites on his own, Yitro shared the above advice. This lesson that Yitro shares with Moses is true for all leaders, especially in our ever-changing world and with the increasing complexity and sophistication of organizational operations.
Foundation for Jewish Camp is guided by the knowledge that talent development is the key factor in its ability to sustain, grow and enhance the field of Jewish camp. FJC has long invested in field professionals, developing and implementing some of the most innovative professional development opportunities in the Jewish professional world. We are pleased to announce the fourth cohort of one of our flagship professional programs for assistant and associate camp directors, the Yitro Leadership Program.
Yitro Leadership Program, aptly named for Yitro, the earliest of management consultants, invests in a diverse network of high potential middle managers, ensuring they too are not alone in the work of camp leadership and able to support their camp directors, those they supervise, and one another.
The Yitro Leadership Program, made possible by the generous contributions of the AVI CHAI Foundation, seeks to widen the lens of the participants’ perception of Jewish leadership in order to enhance the Jewish culture and experience at their camp, while also creating a strong network of peers that allows for collaboration and learning. Through the Yitro Leadership Program, FJC ensures excellent associate and assistant directors fill Jewish camp leadership roles today and that they have the skills, confidence and connections to become the next generation of executive leaders in the future. To date, nearly 60 participants have graduated from the program over three previous cohorts.
“I am so excited about the opportunity to be a part of Yitro,” shared Rachel Dobbs Schwartz, Assistant Director of Camp Ramah Darom, “and believe I will gain an incredible amount from the program and from working with other Assistant/Associate Directors from across the FJC world.” Rachel will be joining 25 of her peers in the fourth Yitro cohort as it launches in April 2018. Mac Linder, Assistant Director of Camp Tel Yehudah also shared, “I am very excited at the opportunity to learn and grow as a camp professional, Jewish educator, and lifelong learner through the Yitro Leadership Program.”
We are thrilled to welcome these 25 outstanding participants to the Yitro IV cohort!
Camp : An Open and Safe Community By Lisa David, Director of URJ Camp Harlam
For the last few years, Camp Harlam has continually sought out to create an open and safe community – an environment that is understanding, accepting, and where bias and prejudice are not tolerated. The leadership of our camp (including our professional staff, lay leaders, and other stakeholders) has invested quite a lot in an effort to continue to shift our culture to be even more aligned with our Reform Jewish ideology, which believes that every individual is created B’tzelem Elohim – in G-d’s image. As we believe this to be true, we have worked hard to develop policies, programs, communication channels, outreach, and trainings in order to do all that we can to ensure that Harlam is a true reflection of today’s Reform Jewish families.
One of the things we have emphasized to our community members is our belief that since we are all truly created in G-d’s image, then we can each contribute something valuable to our greater community. In addition to that belief, we’ve stressed that excluding anyone from our community diminishes the experience for each of us, and lessens our chance of achieving our goal of a more perfect world through tikkun olam (repair of our world).
There are countless moments I have witnessed during the summer which left me feeling confident that our Camp Harlam community has successfully moved in this direction. As a camp director, seeing individual campers and groups welcome newcomers that are different from them, in addition to seeing the excellent work our staff has done to ensure new campers are successful, feels like great progress towards our goal of an open and safe community. There have obviously been times when it’s been challenging, but, one of the things most gratifying about these efforts is to see how our campers have so naturally embraced this culture and have opened their arms and hearts to those around them, regardless of those with more significant challenges, or those struggling at any one moment in time.
For example, take our bunk of Kineret (6th grade) girls who last summer created their own mini-Chill Zone.
In 2016, Harlam established Chill Zone, a sensory space that provides campers the opportunity to take a break from the sometimes overwhelming, overstimulating, 24/7 environment of camp. It’s a small, private, quiet space outfitted with a variety of tools like a bubble wall, stress balls, fidget toys, and other items to keep kids calm and allow them some time and space to decompress. For campers with disabilities or campers for whom the environment at camp can prove to be challenging at times, this accommodation has helped them to be successful at camp, when under other conditions they may not have been. Our campers, both those who have used this space and those who have not, have come to appreciate that every camper needs different things at different times, and have adopted and integrated our philosophy of “universal design” by creating their own accommodations that many, if not all campers, can benefit from.
Enter the aforementioned Kineret girls bunk. During the second session of the summer, the girls created their very own Chill Zone in their bunk, a physical space for those who need some privacy or separation, something that all of us at camp need at different times. They were thoughtful enough to outfit this area with lights, books, fidget toys, and other items that can provide some sense of comfort, to create an island of calm in what might otherwise be a chaotic space. They had internalized Harlam’s inclusive practices and they, too, created an open and safe community; a sacred community, where each person is valued and where accommodations are made to support those who need them, which truly may be any of us, at any time.
Similarly, last summer, I also had the opportunity to visit an Arava (7th grade) boys bunk during their evening ritual, with the intention of sharing with the counselors an incredibly moving letter from a camp family. The family spoke beautifully about how meaningful it was for their child to be welcomed and included at camp:
“When your child has challenges, it can be exhausting. You’re constantly in advocacy mode and you worry a great deal of time. Your heart breaks when you see a typical group of boys his age at the mall or in the neighborhood laughing and having fun because your son doesn’t have that level of independence or that group of friends. He’s on the outside most of the time and that is tremendously hard. You know your kid is lovable and has lots to offer, but often you have to fight just to get him in the door.
At Harlam he is part of the group. He is on the inside and that makes the hearts of all who love him explode with happiness…Thank you so much for giving him a chance. We are so grateful to you and all of his amazingly wonderful counselors. Harlam is really the most magical of places.”
We read this letter (through tears) and shared our gratitude for the support of the counselors in creating this successful experience. Their immediate response? “It’s the kids.” Without accepting any recognition, they credited the campers for understanding and accepting a newcomer who might have been different from them, but who brought joy to the bunk. Moved by their response, we decided to share the letter with the kids, who were beaming as they read the touching tribute. Their response? “We loved having him in the bunk! He was so funny! This is just what we do.” To them, it was not exceptional that they had been so welcoming, it was expected. They shared stories of what this camper gave to them, and how they benefited from his participation in their camp community.
Including people, making people feel safe, and helping others to be successful are not only things we continue to do at Harlam because it is a nice thing to do for those who might struggle at times or in other places, but these are things we are obligated to do because of our Jewish values. These are things that we do because we derive great value from the gifts that each person adds to our experiences here. We don’t always do things perfectly, and at times ensuring each child is successful can be incredibly hard. But both the successes and the learning that come from the challenges are the things that enrich each person and our community.
I’m grateful that our kids have naturally internalized this and lived it while they’re at camp, as I hope it will help all of them, and all of us, to continue to make the world outside of camp a more open and safe place for all.
By Claire Winthrop Coordinator, Youth Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston
When I first went to FJC’s Leaders Assembly four years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I was new to Jewish professional work and — full disclosure — was never a great overnight camper as a kid, so I was a little bit nervous about being surrounded by camp alumni whose love for camp was lifelong. Plus, my role at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) had been very tactical in focus; leveraging my business skills I concentrated on re-branding our camping programs, marketing camp and building relationships with our local camps. I wondered how applicable the conference would be to my day-to-day work.
I learned that participation at Leaders Assembly was more than just “applicable.” It was inspiring.
Our Jewish camp community is committed to building diverse camps that welcome campers with all abilities. Alexis Kashar and Jay Ruderman’s words brought the Jewish camping world’s approach to expanding diversity and welcoming people with disabilities to life.
And, it turned out that I was also with my kind of people.
At Leaders it became quickly apparent that both campers and non-campers can grow up to be amazing camp advocates and colleagues. I connected with other federation professionals from across North America who understood my job (maybe even better than I did) and faced similar challenges. Thanks to Rebecca Kahn and the One Happy Camper partner meeting I was able to become a real part of a network of dedicated colleagues. We planned to keep in touch afterwards and we continue to do so.
Since my director and I both had such positive experiences in 2014, we decided to invite our congregation camp partners the opportunity to attend Leaders Assembly with us in 2016. We thought it would be a nice treat for them, provide them with meaningful professional development, and give us a chance to deepen our working relationships. We weren’t sure if they’d be interested or if their managers would think it was worth the time commitment, but they were, very, and their managers did, wholeheartedly. Four congregational professionals came; two long-time camp advocates, and two newer partners.
Leaders Assembly is valuable for community professionals at any level. Our long-time advocates presented about their synagogues’ camp programs. They were able to serve as a resource for others while our newer partners absorbed a ton of new information from breakout sessions. Ellie described it as “a chance to learn from experts, network with colleagues, and escape the trenches for a few days to dream big about what is possible in the work we do.” What could be better than that?
One is good but two, three, or four Leaders Assemblies are better. With a gap of two years between meetings, there is enough time to develop pilot programs based on what you have learned, grow in your role, assess or reassess your approach, and integrate new practices. While in 2014 I had been impressed, in 2016, I was prepared to take greater advantage of the opportunity; choosing my breakout session attendance strategically (with our partners there to “divide and conquer”) and making plans to collaborate closely with my federation colleagues.
This year I will bring both CJP’s Director of Youth Engagement and the Vice President of Planning with me to Leaders Assembly. They are coming because its content has relevance beyond camping work. I am looking forward to my own new lessons and to hearing about what they learn too.