Jewish Camp – Color Wars, Bug Juice, and the Power of the Personal Tribe

I just read one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts titled, “Can Summer Camp Change Your Life”. Seth, for those of you have not yet discovered him, is the most popular business blogger in the world and the author of some of the most spot-on marketing and business books in print today, including his short, smart book, Tribes. His recent blog on summer camp touched a chord for its insight into how tribes work and why they are so powerful.

My now-adult daughters spent many happy years at the B’nai Brith Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania where they made dear friends, created lifelong memories and became members of their camp tribe. Today, their camp tribe connects largely through Facebook – providing its members a virtual base camp to explore memories and renew connections.

The notion that camping builds special tribal experiences may be obvious but it got me thinking about the power of tribes – Jewish tribes specifically. While Jews have often been labeled “members of the tribe,” the reality is our “Jewish tribe” is mostly non-performing. It’s just a glib description of an entire people that no longer holds much meaning or connectivity. No one today, not even Jews, are defined by one description.

Certainly, there are groups within the Jewish people who are connected to their own thriving tribes. Some of the most exciting ones are found at the margins (or shall I say, at the fertile frontier) of Jewish life. Take a look at Footsteps,, JDub Records, Keshet, and the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue or the Golding/Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life – all recipients of Slingshot funding – to get a sense of how these innovators are building vibrant tribes.

How do we take the learning from these Jewish innovators and the venerable Jewish camp experience and apply their successes to the more established organized community? What is it about a tribe that works better than any traditional marketing effort?

As Seth Godin explains, it is simple. A tribe needs a platform and a leader to “motivate, connect, and leverage.” That is it. The leader needs to work from the bottom up, to inspire with powerful ideas rather to be the “authority”, to connect people, and to help the tribe find ways to leverage its power. Tribe members are the real leaders. You just need to get one started and allow it to grow. Larger organizations have buried within their ranks, leaders and tribes ready to surface. Read Godin’s book. There are clear examples of how to create a passionate tribe of empowered followers for even the largest, most bureaucratic organizations.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.