A Jewish Summer for Everyone

by Lee D. Weiss and Jeremy J. Fingerman

“The Pew Study should be a wake-up call. When I am asked what we do to fix Pew, I would get more Jewish kids to go to camp,” Steven M. Cohen told us as he joined the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) board meeting last week for a lively discussion of the results of the recently released survey. As a board and an organization fully committed to “assuring a vibrant Jewish future,” the time is right for us to have a greater impact on the Jewish communal agenda; and the Pew survey puts our already far-reaching goals in perspective.

Dr. Cohen laid out his theories on Jewish social networks for us. “Establishing social networks for young Jews has lifelong impact. In order to raise the marriage rate and the fertility rate of Jews, we need to facilitate young Jews building social networks. Jewish camp is the best place for this. Our communal goal should be to have every Jewish kid involved in a Jewish context for the summer.”

We couldn’t agree more and we move forward with a renewed sense of urgency. Our mission remains unchanged: to get more and more kids to experience joyous Judaism through immersive Jewish summers at camp.

As we look towards 2014, the Foundation is excited to build on the success of our first Specialty Camps Incubator, which launched five new specialty camps in the summer of 2010 and has brought more than 2500 new campers to Jewish camp thus far. Thanks to funding from the Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations, this coming summer we will facilitate the opening of four new specialty camps across the country, inviting new families to explore the magic of Jewish camp through healthy living, science and technology, sports, and entrepreneurship.

Over the past year, we have surveyed our camps on accessibility and special needs, looking for new ways to create avenues for all Jews to have the opportunity to experience Jewish camp, regardless of disability. We will be seeking funding for initiatives that significantly enhance services for children and teens with disabilities at Jewish camps across North America focusing on staffing and training; physical accessibility; and vocational and life skills training programs for those who are aging out of camp.

This February we will be launching a pilot initiative addressing affordability, creating an innovative way to make Jewish camp more accessible. We are also working on new inclusion initiatives to encourage Russian speaking Jews and children from interfaith families to participate in Jewish life even more. We look forward to sharing more on these initiatives in the months ahead.

As we move forward, we continue to explore ways to expand our tent by working with Jewish day camps and summer teen travel programs, finding new ways to ensure that more kids participate in the unparalleled experience of a Jewish summer.

Over the next few years we hope to see your child, grandchild, neighbor, and friend gathered around our campfire, sharing Shabbat under the stars, and becoming part of what we know will be a vibrant Jewish future.

Lee D. Weiss is Chair and Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO atthe Foundation for Jewish Camp.