2013 on the Horizon

by Jeremy J. Fingerman

As we enter 2013 and consider what the new year will bring, I see three important trends affecting our community today overall that need to inform our conversations and our plans – as Jewish professionals, lay leaders, and a community as a whole – as we move forward into this year.

First, we face the continued challenge of the affordability of living a Jewish life today. Many in our midst simply cannot afford to participate in the varied opportunities which are available. Great strides have been made and generous funders have stepped forward with scholarships and financial aid, and we are watching with heightened interest the progress generated by The AVI CHAI Foundation, PEJE, and Yeshiva University, among others, who are working hard to make day school education more affordable. But we still need to do more across the board to serve all segments of our community. We need to develop lower cost, more efficient offerings as well, targeting those in the challenged middle income brackets. The ongoing uncertainty of the economy requires our creativity and collaboration.

Second, our institutions need strengthening. We can accomplish this by better utilizing our communal assets and resources more effectively. Again, we see this trend evolving with successful models under development. The Nadiv program, which has created senior experiential Jewish educator positions that are shared by nonprofit Jewish overnight camps and Jewish day or synagogue schools, is but one new great example to address this need. Nadiv aims to enhance the quality of education at Jewish camps and schools in a sustainable way, create a new model for year-round positions for trained and talented Jewish educators, and model a new way to foster deeper collaboration between different kinds of institutions in the Jewish educational world. Individual organizations can benefit from asset sharing as well. The merger of Hazon, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, and Teva Learning Alliance is a recent illustration of this, but collaboration does not require complete fusion. For example, over several years the Foundation for Jewish Camp has worked in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation on several projects towards a mutual goal of getting more kids to experience the transformative power of Jewish summer camp.

Third, we feel a moral imperative to create more inclusivity within our community. Together we must address our ability to meet the needs of all Jews in North America to appropriately reflect its broad diversity. Many groups are tackling areas that need attention in different ways. For example, the Jewish Funders Network has taken on the task of guiding and supporting funders to make more educated decisions in supporting programs for Jews with special needs and physical disabilities; Keshet is an organization dedicated to the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life; and the field of Jewish camp has created overnight camps for Russian-speaking Jews and multi-racial Jewish families. We hope this is just the beginning.

Even as we work to address these three trends, I believe we should remind ourselves of the context in which we do so. We aim to create a more joyful Jewish experience for everyone. I hope we can all agree that “joyous Judaism” can help break down barriers and silos which confront us. The field of Jewish camp has done so successfully and provides a great example for us all. Camps inspire an expression of Judaism that is joyful, powerful, and sustainable. Camps put children on a Jewish path which stays with them for life.

May the new year bring us closer together as we reach toward our ultimate collective goal: building and securing a more vibrant Jewish future.

Jeremy J. Fingerman is completing his third year as the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.