By Justin Pines
Jewish camps provide us with joy, connection and transformation. Camp and the formative teenage Jewish experiences that come with it are irreplaceable. It is no coincidence that many leaders of our communities were campers and counselors.
In the face of this year’s many camp closures, now is the time to think about which parts of the experience we must mourn as lost, which parts we try to salvage and which parts we can even improve upon. Otherwise, we risk losing not only this summer, but also losing a significant investment in the Jewish future.
For camp is more than just a pastime: it strengthens an interwoven network of friends, mentors and memories; its home-away-from-home atmosphere creates an opportunity for teenagers to develop their Jewish identity in conversation with peers and counselors; and its yearly repetition creates a pipeline for engaged, informed and passionate Jewish leaders.
At the Shalom Hartman Institute, we aspire to bring the right ideas to the right people so they can overcome the challenges to building a vibrant Jewish future. So, as we re-shape and re-imagine our entire summer programs for adult leaders and university students, we also wanted to create a fellowship that is not just about giving our teenagers something to do but about investing in who they will become.
Camp and education programs around the country are scrambling to offer alternative experiences. Perhaps the lakes will be closed this year, but – with geographical distance and financial barriers less of a burden – transformative summer experiences can still be open.
After conversations with many friends and thought partners – so far including the UJA-Federation of New York, the Foundation for Jewish Camps, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and Camp Yavneh – we are pleased to announce the The Hartman Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Thought Leaders. This four-week program is for high school students graduating in 2020, 2021 and 2022, who are interested in exploring with their peers and top Hartman scholars questions of Jewish peoplehood, at-homeness, and contemporary challenges facing North American Jewish identity.
Through this fellowship, we are investing in the future of the Jewish people in four significant ways. In addition to addressing some of the needs of the camp community, we hope that these four approaches will prove helpful in thinking about how to turn some communal challenges into opportunities.
Building the Leadership Pipeline: Teen fellows will learn with top Hartman scholars like Tal Becker, Mijal Bitton, Donniel Hartman, Yehuda Kurtzer, and Elana Stein Hain through interactive webinars, text study, and discussions. In addition, as a capstone project, fellows will practice how to lead an educational experience for their peers through writing, teaching or another medium of their choice.
Jewish Identity Development with Peers: The fellowship will also feature small discussion groups, facilitated by talented college students (many of whom are alumni of our Hevruta gap year program in Israel), where fellows can dive seriously and playfully into what this learning means for their personal Jewish identities and community.
Using and Bolstering Existing Networks: The fellowship will work closely with existing camp networks. It will include two tracks: one where participants can process, discuss and create with peers and college students from their existing camp community, and one where they can join a group of participants from all different communities. All of these groups will brainstorm how to bring their experiences to their camps or to other communities, and facilitators from the specific camp track will be able to further enhance programming that reflects the unique character and values of their camps.
Diversity and Inclusion: The immediacy of the virtual world means we can include students from around the country, with subsidies to defray any costs. We can include students who would otherwise not be able to attend and bring together students who might not otherwise meet.
Our teens are facing important questions about citizenship, nationalism, democracy and the societies in which we live. COVID-19 has already reshaped their attitudes about collective community and what it means to be ‘at-home,’ and is raising issues of theology, spirituality, and social responsibility. They have the will to face these challenges, let’s give them the tools they need and the experience they deserve.
Justin Pines is the Director of New York for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.