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Cornerstone Alumni Grantee: Building a Shabbat Community

The Foundation for Jewish Camp is dedicated to building leaders and amplifying Jewishness. While the Cornerstone Fellowship is about building leaders and helping camp staff see themselves as Jewish educators. We aim to assist alumni of the program to take their ideas and experience even further, amplifying Jewishness in their communities, with the support of Cornerstone Alumni Grants. The FJC is thrilled that past participants of Cornerstone are taking advantage of the Cornerstone Alumni Grant.

Here is one example of how the grants are being put to good use through transformative programming. Tiffany Miller (Camp Ramah in California), is featured here on how she has used her Cornerstone Alumni Grant to help her local Jewish community:

After I completed college, I made the decision to move back home to California. Since I attended college out of state, none of my friends from school would be joining me in my return back to Los Angeles. Luckily, as a “professional” camp counselor, specialist and head of staff, I had been on staff at Camp Ramah in California for 10 summers and had developed a strong community of friends that I knew would be a part of my post college community in Los Angeles.

So, I packed up my bags, flew across the country, and moved in with three of my closest camp friends. We found ourselves a large house within walking distance to all the kosher restaurants and synagogues. Camp friends seemed to be everywhere. Birthday parties, dinners, social gatherings, it seemed we had it all.

As time went on, a number of friends began to leave Los Angeles for what they determined to be more vibrant, younger Jewish communities in New York City, Chicago, Jerusalem, etc. I began to hear my friends describe LA as “Decentralized”, “Flat” or “Not a place to meet your future husband or wife.” They didn’t feel like Los Angeles had a Jewish community for them.

A few close friends and I began to ask ourselves (and everyone who would listen) what was lacking in Los Angeles, a place that is known for having literally everything. I mean, seriously, we have kosher vegan Thai food and not one, but two Top Chef Veterans cooking food in the Kosher corridor. What we started to hear in conversations with friends was that there wasn’t a Jewish institution in Los Angeles that young people felt they had ownership over or captured the special Shabbat community that exists at Jewish summer camp. Sure, there are dozens of shuls throughout Pico Robertson, but a lot of people expressed it wasn’t the Jewish community they were looking for. These were their parent’s synagogues (or for transplants, it mirrored their childhood synagogues from home). For them, and for me, I didn’t want to celebrate Shabbat as a guest in the community; I wanted to be a part of a community that felt like home, the same way camp always felt like home.

With this in mind, a few friends and I were inspired to create a space that was organic and personal for Shabbat evening; a place for the camp spirit to take root and grow within our adult lives. We were looking to create a community for likeminded people interested in a camp style Shabbat davening experience followed by Shabbat dinner and Jewish study. Since we knew many of us didn’t feel at home at the Jewish institutions of Los Angeles, we decided to host this experience in our homes. We chose to name this experience Kol Kayitz, (an audible double-entendre: The Voice of Summer, and also, Always Summer)”, to reflect our goal to capture the spirit and energy of camp community and prayer.

As we spread the word to our friends and they spread it to their friends, it seemed that many 20s and 30s in Los Angeles were seeking this same camp communal feeling. In the hopes of creating communal ownership, we reached out to those who expressed an interest in participating if they would be opened to leading davening, giving a d’var Torah, organizing the potluck, donating siddurim, etc. With a few emails and phone calls, we had an all-star lineup of daveners, coordinators and speakers, a donation of 30 siddurim, and a special Shabbat community.

And our new community is flourishing here at Kol Kayitz.

I have asked some of the members of Kol Kayitz to share their thoughts about their experiences:

“I love the sense of community that Kol Kayitz provides! I love meeting new friends with similar values, and I love being part of a comfortable, relevant davening experience.”- Shira

“I love seeing old friends, I love the community, I love the passion for tradition and the values we grew to love at camp, and how that continues as we grow up and have families of our own.”- Benji

“I like that Kol Kayitz feels familiar…the people, the melodies…but there are also always new faces to welcome.”- Margalit

Camp is where I experienced the true power of community for the first time. Where I saw began to understand how personal growth and learning happen when we are part of a community that supports and challenges us. At Cornerstone I began to learn not only how to help build these communities in meaningful and organic ways. My camp experiences and the skills learned at Cornerstone which provided me with both the motivation and ability to build a community like Kol Kayitz

Are you a Cornerstone Alum? There’s still time to create Jewish experiences for your local community. Grants range from $500-$1,500, and are administered on a rolling basis. For more information about the Cornerstone Alumni Grant please contact cornerstone@jewishcamp.org or learn more on our website. 

Applications are due by February 15th!

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