Creating Internships – and Great Counselors, Too.

As important as this first connection to Israel is, we know that the second touch each young person makes with Israel is really what “seals the deal” for a lifelong connection and a long-term relationship with Israel.

by Jonathan Cohen

Knowledgeable, committed and experienced camp counselors are the cornerstone of any great summer camp experience. The Cohen Camps, three New England Jewish overnight camps, along with all other Jewish camps face the same challenge: retaining the experienced counselors who have grown up at our camps and can enthusiastically pass on camp traditions and ruach to the next generation of campers. We highly value the expertise, knowledge and energy of these college-age counselors

These experienced, college-age counselors face a dilemma. They want to return to camp, but they face increasing job market pressure to find summer internships which will make them more marketable after college. In fact, some of their universities are making this a mandatory requirement. In yielding to this pressure, they cannot return to the summer camps they love where many of the 200 counselors across our camps could provide greater leadership within their camp.

What to do? The Cohen Camps are piloting an innovative approach this year, one with the potential to provide a solution that enhances the lives of our staff and our campers alike. It’s a program we’re calling Dor L’Dor: College Style, and we see it as an approach that could work for many camps. It allows our counselors to have the best of both worlds: an internship in Israel and a chance to work at the Jewish summer camp they love.

Virtually all of our home-grown staff has had an Israel experience through our Dor L’Dor Leadership program (our combined counselor-in-training program for all three camps) which is comprised of a 5-week exploration of Israel and leadership training, both in Israel and back at camp. This experience intensifies our CITs’ personal relationship with Israel and creates a tangible connection to the land and its people. Both leadership skills and the connection to Israel are important core values of the Cohen Camps mission.

As important as this first connection to Israel is, we know that the second touch each young person makes with Israel is really what “seals the deal” for a lifelong connection and a long-term relationship with Israel. Suddenly, we realized: retaining and supporting counselors isn’t a problem. It’s an incredible opportunity.

With Dor L’Dor: College Style, slated for launch this spring, we’ll build on our existing Dor L’Dor strengths, with a wide range of new benefits. Partnering with Onward Israel, the program of The Jewish Agency for Israel, DLD: College Style will combine a high-level internship program in Israel designed for Cohen Camps college-age counselors – graduates of the Dor L’Dor program – immediately followed by summer-long employment at a Cohen Camp. Dor L’Dor: College Style will help launch our counselors into their careers with marketable 21st Century skills while we deepen their connection to the Jewish community, a goal embedded in our mission statement. Dor L’Dor: College Style will enable our counselors to have their internships and their camp too, where they can be leaders and impart some of their new-found knowledge of Israel to their campers. Furthermore, Dor L’Dor: College Style will enable our camps to retain – and, even better – nurture and support – our college-age counselors.

By creating Dor L’Dor College Style, we’re investing in Israel connections, meaningful internships, Jewish overnight camping and Jewish identity.

Counselors get: 21st Century skills, strong resumes, global work experience, and a higher-level, paying summer jobs.

Camps get: Mature, experienced counselors who can share – even embody – their love of Israel and Jewish camping, and impart this to their campers.

The field of Jewish Overnight Camping gets: An entirely new model for Jewish summer camp-Israel engagement and an extraordinary new way to support and cultivate staff while strengthening their employment pools and furthering their missions.

The Jewish Community gets: A cohort of young leaders, with deep, meaningful, more nuanced connections to Israel and the Jewish community at a time they are beginning their transition to the working world. Studies conducted within the Jewish community consistently cite Jewish overnight camp as a core Jewish experience. It is often identified by adults as the driving reason they continue to connect Jewishly in their communities.

We believe that Dor L’Dor College Style is an entirely new concept in Jewish camping and education and we’re excited to pilot it at The Cohen Camps during the summer of 2014. We’ll look forward to sharing our experiences and learnings with others, because we anticipate that many camps could try this approach as well.

Jonathan Cohen is the President of the Cohen Camps.