Originally posted on eJewishPhilanthropy.com
There’s no denying the rich, joyous, and stimulating experience of Jewish summer camp; research proves it contributes to Jewish identity, strengthens the Jewish community and fosters Jewish leadership.
At Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), we believe camp must also reflect the diversity of today’s Jewish community and be accessible for everyone.
Jewish camps should strive to create an environment which fosters growth for its campers and college aged counselors. Everyone benefits from an inclusive camp community, which has a culture that embraces and recognizes diversity.
We encourage camp environments where each camper, regardless of whether or not they have a disability, is given what they need to succeed at camp, in an environment in which everyone can learn from each other. Camp offers a place where every child has the opportunity to learn how to live in a diverse community, how to face and overcome challenges, and how to accept that being different is okay. An inclusive camp environment gives everyone the opportunity to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn how to be flexible and tolerant. These skills help build a stronger future Jewish community.
Part of what makes camp so unique is how integrated it is into nature and the ruach that comes along with it. The unpaved greenery, the steps up to the bunks, the hills that lead to the dining hall, the loud cheering after Shabbat dinner on Friday night. But what about the camper with cerebral palsy who can’t walk herself up that hill to the dining hall? Or the boy who covers his ears during song session because he has autism and the loud cheering is overwhelming? For the 15-20% of kids with a disability, whether that is cognitive, emotional, physical, intellectual or sensory, camp can present many obstacles. We feel an obligation to increase the availability of camp options for them.
After our study conducted in 2012-13 found that children with disabilities are significantly underserved by Jewish camp, FJC issued a vision statement for a major disabilities initiative. The overarching goal is to ensure that campers with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers. In 2014, we began securing funding to enhance services at nonprofit Jewish camps across North America for campers with disabilities. One of the major areas identified by the study was the need for trained inclusion specialists and for counselor training focused on serving children with a variety of needs.
One major step in this direction is our new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the FJC Ruderman Inclusion Initiative. Four camps have been selected as part of the pilot. Each camp will have a new, dedicated Inclusion Coordinator on staff to intentionally and meaningfully increase their camp’s capacity to serve campers with disabilities. These inclusion coordinators will also receive intensive training and mentoring over the course of three years. They will have the opportunity to learn about universal design, developing strategies to manage camper behaviors and creating cooperative learning for all campers.
Our inclusion efforts continue to grow and we are eager to help more camps find new ways to say yes and break down more barriers. We now have 60 overnight camps within our system who are currently serving children with disabilities. In 2014, we added 3 new programs, one of which is an inclusion program for boys who are deaf and in the summer of 2015, we anticipate several new programs at our camps. As Jewish leaders, camp directors, and educators, this is our responsibility.
It boils down to one major truth: every child, no matter who they are, has the right access the Jewish community. There’s no telling what the future of Jewish camp or the Jewish community will look like, but one thing is for sure: it will be a much richer, more welcoming community if it becomes an inclusive one.
I am certain that I am not the only parent who wrestles with the question of how to guide my children to become mensches and individuals who are relevant in the 21st century.
Educators and leaders of Fortune 500 corporations identified critical skills that are necessary to navigate in, compete in, and contribute to our complex and global society in the 21st century. They have found skills like creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, leadership, and responsibility missing from young hires.
Research shows that these skills are not necessarily taught in schools. We know there is a significant gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful as adults. As parents work to ensure their children acquire all the skills to succeed, many have begun relying on summer experiences to compensate for this gap and view camp as a critical extension of their child’s education.
Camp is a great place where children are able to practice and perfect these 21st century skills. Through challenging activities with their bunkmates, campers practice teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. The fun games they play encourage humor, creativity, and collaboration. By overcoming obstacles, they build resilience and reinforce life lessons individually and as a community. The power of Jewish camp is that kids develop these skills all within a Jewish context, with Jewish values and joy-filled experiences.
Jewish camps hope to inspire young people today to be able to be decent, mature, and responsible contributing members of our Jewish community. Jewish camps have been in the business of “making mensches” for generations and they continue to do so by providing an environment for our children that models personal behavior, ethics, and responsibility for the future of our Jewish community.
Six months from now, our bunks, chapels, and lakes will be filled with mensches in the making. We must continue to provide our campers with Jewish literacy with the aim of creating visible Jewish pride and curiosity as well as equip them with critical 21st century skills.
Camp’s immersive environment delivers a powerful answer to why Jewish camp remains to this day such a vital tool for our community.
Jewish camps across North America have opened, or are preparing to open, their gates to over 75,000 happy campers this summer. Whether you’ve already sent your trunks up to camp, or you are just starting to gather items on your packing list, remember that some of the most important things to bring with you aren’t things at all!
I recently received a pre-camp note from one of our camps. In it, was a suggested “Packing List” from Rabbi Joel Seltzer, director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos. I’d like to share it with you.
Don’t worry – this packing list will not require another run to the store, more labeling of clothes, or any added concern about how any person is going to be able to lift the bags into the car!
So please remember to pack your kids with:
- A Helping Hand – Don’t forget to bring a caring spirit, always willing to help out a friend in need.
- An Open Mind – Remember that camp is built to offer new experiences, some of them challenging, but bring an open mind and you might just discover you found a new talent.
- A Love of Learning – Ramah is about growth; expanding horizons, and learning about Judaism, about Israel, and about the modern Hebrew language.
- A Mental Camera – Because sometimes the best moments and memories in life are captured in our minds, and shared with our friends; and not posted on Facebook.
- A Desire to Make New Friends – As you are packing, don’t forget what camp is all about – friendship! Make sure you bring a welcoming smile, a good joke, and who knows, you might just make a new best friend this summer!
I love this message. Yes, sunscreen and sneakers are necessary items, but instead of focusing on actual things we should be bringing, let’s focus on the things that allow us to get the most from our summer. After all, while it’s common for kids to forget their towel or socks at camp, they always bring their experiences home with them. And unlike material things, those experiences are irreplaceable.
I’ve just returned from a trip to Jerusalem where I participated in two important gatherings: the Planning Summit for a new proposed Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry and the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. For those of us who are dedicated to bolstering Jewish identity and creating a more vibrant Jewish future, these proceedings demonstrated a paradigm shift – a new two-way street between Israel and the Diaspora – with exciting possibilities. Despite the diversity of perspectives and approaches, we worked together in an open and collaborative way. And I was personally very encouraged to hear the almost universal consensus that the transformative power of Jewish camp mandates further investment and expansion.
The Government of Israel initiative represents a huge opportunity for world Jewry to work together to confront assimilation and to enhance Jewish identity. Building on the success of Birthright, the new initiative will be comprised of a significant investment by the Israeli government which will be matched with philanthropic contributions in order to reposition the place of Israel in the hearts and minds of young Jews throughout the world. We hope to leverage opportunities by taking advantage of the “adjacent possibilities” that emerge from the successes we are already having. This would include two areas which would impact our camp community in particular: enhanced Israel education at camp and increased immersive teen travel experiences in Israel.
During the GA, JFNA board chair Michael Siegal and CEO Jerry Silverman shared their priorities in response to the issues raised in the Pew study. With clarity and purpose, they called for the significant expansion of Jewish summer camps. When asked who had attended or had sent their kids Jewish camp, the vast majority of the GA delegates raised their hands affirmatively – a clear visible demonstration of how camp creates adults committed to our Jewish community. Federation leadership from across North America expressed to me their commitment to expanding that which we know is working.
Read the rest of this feature on the Times of Israel.
Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the presentation of the top-line results of the new Pew Research Center study of Jewish Americans. Among the small group were several of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s key funders, philanthropists and trustees. Overall, the people in the room had two immediate reactions to the news that so many Jews living in the US today are non-practicing or don’t identify with Judaism: Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
As a Jewish communal professional involved in identity building and continuity, the findings were not surprising to me. These are the challenges the field of Jewish camp faces every day, the challenges that push Foundation for Jewish Camp and our colleagues in the field to work harder, to get more kids to camp and to make every minute that they are at camp count. According to the Pew findings, 44% of practicing Jews reported attending Jewish overnight camp as opposed to only 18% of those who are non-practicing. We read those results to mean that those who experienced Judaism through the lens of Jewish camp were influenced to make it part of their lives long after they attended their last campfire. We believe that many of those children may have had no other Jewish experiences growing up besides camp.
In his remarks on the findings, Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, made the case for Jewish camp. His comments echoed those that he shared on the release of our research, Camp Works, “We don’t have to repair the lack of adult engagement in Jewish life. If you invest in Jewish youth, you’re going to automatically get all kinds of engagement. With Jewish camp…you continue to see the results 20, 30, 40 years from now.” Camp is a place where children live joyous Judaism and explore our religion on their own terms. At FJC, we work hard every day to make sure more kids have that opportunity each summer.
As we have conversations with our many colleagues and partners in the field and beyond regarding the implications of this study, I am confident that together we can and will work to create a more vibrant Jewish future.