By Danny Herz

The atmosphere was incredible, the crowd was electric, and the tension was palpable. It was the fall of 2007. Two great high school teams were competing in front of a sold-out crowd at a college basketball arena. As the head coach of one of the participating teams that night, I told my players to enjoy every second of the experience, and to remember just how fortunate we were to be in this environment. We were lucky to have a rival team that could help to bring out the biggest crowd in Florida high school basketball history, and bring out the best in each of us – and our team – as well. 

Fast forward to this incredibly challenging time in which we are living. As we deal with the harsh reality of Covid-19, we will all remember the summer of 2020 for the losses we have felt as Jewish camp professionals. And yet, what if these trying times gave us an opportunity that we all needed but did not dare to embrace? As Simon Sinek said, “Innovation is not born from the dream. Innovation is born from the struggle.”

If we are honest with ourselves, the world of Jewish camp can be tricky. We all believe in the power of Jewish camp, and we are each responsible for our own bottom line. As both of these things can be true at once, camp professionals in the field are collegial, friendly, and willing to share information. At the same time, camp professionals can be territorial, secretive, and unwilling to work together – especially in recruiting campers in service to the larger stated goal of Jewish kids at Jewish camp. 

There are just a few programs dedicated to Jewish athletes. Three of them, the URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp and the Ramah Sports Academy are all born of the collaboration between their parent organizations and Foundation for Jewish Camp. Maccabi USA and Maccabi Canada provide service to their constituents by using sports competition to build Jewish identity. Across these programs are years of professional respect and even friendship among their leaders. Yet, up to this point there was an affable rivalry. The loss of in-person camping afforded our field an opportunity to take a risk and work together. An idea was born, communications between organizations took place, and then, theoretical conversations morphed into action planning and finally an agreement and forward momentum.

For the first time ever, URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, Ramah Sports Academy, Maccabi USA, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, JCC Maccabi Games and Maccabi Canada partnered together. We collaborated to offer free on-demand sports skill training, with an eye toward on-going content creation. Each of the organizations contributed to the infrastructure and were on board for the greater goal of providing young Jewish athletes from across the world with instruction and skills-based coaching from elite coaches, and each organization trusted the fact that “rising tides would lift all ships” and that together we can accomplish so much more than we could as individual organizations. We approached the Foundation for Jewish Camp and Mosaic United who recognized the tremendous team effort and jumped right in to fund the project as part of their Jewish Camp @ Home initiative.

The product of our collaboration – www.JewishSportsNow.com – has been a success and yet could not have come to fruition without true partnership from the leading organizations in the North American Jewish sports landscape, our home organizations, the FJC and Mosaic United. Our first 6 days saw 737 unique visitors to our site, with 2552 page views. Each of those visitors received free access to the site by sharing their contact information with us. 

Reflecting on the basketball game that tipped off this article, there was a winner on the scoreboard that night. More importantly than who had the most points, both teams succeeded because we all understood that our competitors made us better that night. The “kavod” – the honor – was in the recognition that it takes more than one team to make a game, and the most satisfying matches are with worthy opponents who lift one another up. I am confident when we work together – I am confident when we work together, even in competition, Jewish athletes around the world will benefit and the Jewish community will thrive. Competition is not a negative thing – it encourages us to be better!

As any good coach would do, I am going to challenge you: move outside of your comfort zone and explore possible partners with whom you can collaborate – you may just open doors and expand your market share! I would love to huddle up and hear what you come up with. I also invite you to look at our collaboration at www.JewishSportsNow.com. Please be counted among our partners and share the site with the passionate Jewish athletes in your life.

Coach Danny Herz, one of the strongest voices in Jewish athletics in North America, has called 6 Points Sports Academy his home since the inception of camp in 2010. Prior to his role at camp, Danny served on the administrative team at schools in Southern California and in South Florida. Danny earned his bachelors degree from the University of Florida and his masters degree from Ohio University, and is a certified camp director by the ACA. Danny is known for being a dynamic leader and public speaker who develops his staff into leaders, coaching his staff with passion and high expectations.

This piece is part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer series on innovation at Jewish camp. Visit www.jewishcamp.org/blog all summer long to read more!