Every May, 400 of the best staff members from Jewish camps across North America come together for 5 days of workshops, song sessions, and campfires, learning from seasoned faculty and from each other at the annual Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. The program, run by Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), is about building leaders and helping camp staff see themselves as Jewish educators and role models. These Fellows return to camp inspired to create transformative experiences for their camp communities.
With 14 years under its belt, the Cornerstone Fellowship has amassed a whopping 3,300 creative, passionate, community-oriented alumni across North America and Israel. And while many have now left the camp world, and some even have young families of their own, these change-makers are once again transforming Jewish life in their communities thanks to a new opportunity provided to them by Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Last year, FJC announced the launch of their new Cornerstone Alumni Grants, an opportunity for past Fellows to take their ideas and experiences beyond the camp setting and into their everyday life. Grantees are encouraged to think big and partner with other Fellows or community organizations, and they can secure as much as $1,500 to bring these programs, experiences, or series to fruition.
From community gardens to talking politics with Israeli musicians, learning about the Spanish Inquisition at a theater performance to teaching Jewish cooking to children, these Cornerstone alumni are bringing camp-inspired innovative approaches to Jewish engagement into private homes, theaters, and concert venues around the country.
Oriel Eisner, a past Cornerstone Fellow from Maurice B. Shwayder Camp, came up with a creative way to use the grant – purchase discounted theater tickets to teach an important part of Jewish history. For young adults and students in Boulder, Colorado, this was a great way to give them the opportunity to see the show without having to buy an expensive ticket, while infusing the experience with a primer on the Spanish Inquisition and a lively moderated discussion afterward.
“The history [of the Spanish Inquisition] is dark and intense, but the lessons are timeless, and I didn’t realize quite how relevant they would become. It taught me the value art has in bringing people together, opening difficult conversations and carrying history into the present. I’m grateful that I was able to share this with my community and peers.”
When their friends started leaving Los Angeles for what they deemed “more vibrant” Jewish communities, Tiffany Miller and Ari Cohen, both Cornerstone alumni from Camp Ramah in California, decided to take action. They asked people what exactly their community was lacking. “I didn’t want to celebrate Shabbat as a guest in the community; I wanted to be a part of a community that felt like home, the same way camp always felt like home.” They used the grant money to bring young Jews together on Friday nights for prayers, conversation, and community. Hosted in their own backyards, the community known as Kol Kayitz has blossomed into a space of communal ownership regardless of which camp one attended or even their observance level.
“Camp is where I experienced the true power of community for the first time. Where I began to understand how personal growth and learning happen when we are part of a community that supports and challenges us. At Cornerstone I began to learn how to build these communities in meaningful and organic ways. It was these camp experiences and the skills learned at Cornerstone which provided me with both the motivation and ability to build a community like Kol Kayitz.”
We know the impact of Jewish camp lasts long after being a camper or staff member. Jewish camp alumni were already more likely to donate to Jewish organizations and attend synagogue. But now, with the help of these grants, alumni are not just participating – they are initiating programs like these all over the country, harnessing the passion and leadership skills they developed at Jewish camp and as Cornerstone Fellows to elevate and innovate opportunities for Jewish engagement in their communities.
Are you a Cornerstone Alum? There’s still time to apply for a grant to create a new Jewish experience in your community. Applications will be accepted through February 15, 2017. Visit www.jewishcamp.org/alumnigrants or contact [email protected] today!
The Cornerstone Fellowship is a program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, generously supported by the AVI CHAI Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Marcus Foundation, and the Morningstar Foundation.