From Berlin to Bunks

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Today’s Jewel of Elul is from Elisa Bildner, who chairs the Foundation for Jewish Camp:

Erev Shabbat, July 18, 2008. Berlin’s Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue. One of the few non-native parishioners in a packed pre-World War II sanctuary, I daven, mesmerized by the cantor’s mellifluous tenor. I think: What seemed improbable, impossible, is not. Six decades after the Nazis obliterated 200,000 German Jews, Berlin is the world’s fastest growing Jewish community.

My thoughts flit from macro and global to micro and communal, considering another unlikely scenario. Ten years ago, my husband Rob and I started the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which advocates for and supports non-profit Jewish overnight camps. We struggled to convince the Jewish world to financially bolster and embrace the power of these institutions, as the community had so admirably done for Israel trips and day schools. As Jonah Geller of Detroit’s Camp Tamarack once explained: “If you want to give children a Jewish background, give them a Jewish playground.” I remember cajoling potential funders to visit a camp. Two men arrived, shvitzing in button-down shirts. We walked past a bunk of kids listening intently to the camp director describe his experience as an Israeli army medic, and past another group of campers learning Israeli dancing. “This isn’t Jewish learning,” one funder huffed, promptly ending the visit – and any assistance.

Flash forward ten years later. Rob and I sit in another packed venue, a Foundation for Jewish Camp reception for Atlanta Jewish leaders, awed as FJC CEO Jerry Silverman and Chair Skip Vichness outline what this year’s $20 million budget has wrought. Scholarships aplenty. Staff training programs. Assistance to build new camps.

From Berlin to bunks: Nothing, or as they say in Berlin, nichts, is impossible.

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Posted on September 3, 2008

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