By Shawna Goodman Sone
Fleece pajama bottoms and colorful backpacks are just a few of the catchy give-a-ways that North American kids are given when they register super early for summer camp. This tactic provides the needed reassurance for both the kids and parents that their countdown to camp has officially begun and camp directors can begin to effectively plan responsibly knowing their numbers.
In Israel, where I live, I can’t say there is much talking or planning about summer- time … most parents will begin finalizing summer plans closer to Passover – yes, it is always acharei ha-hagim (after the holidays).
In February 2019 eJP published an article I wrote, “Changing the Paradigm of Summer Camp in Israel” which spoke to the aspiration of developing innovate summer camps of a minimum of 10 nights which would take kids to new “places” and get them off the couch. I related to all the real life benefits we know are accessible through a summer camp experience. I received so many encouraging responses through social media and personally that I was convinced I was on the right path.
So here we are almost a year later …. Believing the summer to be a gift of possibilities, my husband and I decided to dedicate our focus in both time and resources towards launching the Forum for Summer Camps in Israel. Led by Dani Rosner and Anat Ben-Dror two outstanding informal Israeli educators, the Forum is becoming a living centre for empowerment as it serves as a peer network for those aspiring to start a multi week camp for Israeli adolescents and teens.
Now more than ever, learning and strengthening soft skills are a priority due to the storm of screen addiction. A 2019 Israeli study shows that 70% of parents believe their children are addicted to screens and 65% feel that this addiction negatively impacts the child’s ability to create and strengthen interpersonal relationships. It is incumbent on us to find places to teach skills that are lost when a screen becomes a child’s main source of interaction. We want every child to have the opportunity to spend time each summer at a trusted oasis which offers the opportunity to gain resilience, tolerance and respect for our fellow neighbor.
In October the Forum issued a Kol Koreh – a request for proposals for support through capacity building grants and in November invited representatives who submitted viable applications to a HACKATHON where we partnered representatives of 19 organizations with 40 volunteer educators and business mentors. I must thank our volunteer partners and congratulate our applicants as the process has been serious, energizing and constructive.
The volunteers were grateful for this shidduch (matching) where they were able to share and contribute in the organization’s vison for summer camp – these opportunities are not the norm and the synergy between the two groups was infectious. In fact, the mentors were so emotionally invested that they reached out in the days that followed the Hackathon to find out if their mentee was one of the grant recipients.
After a very difficult process (too much potential to choose from), we have proudly selected 7 of the 18 “camps in progress” we interviewed to mentor and support for summer 2020. We based our selection on the seriousness of the plan and diversity of models the various models. We will also be offering scholarship funds to the other camps, if they move ahead, to assist them in including children from families of modest means. Experience, as well as research conducted by the UJA Federation of New York in 2018, identifies that the price of overnight summer camp for more than a few days is out of range of most Israeli families.
Along with the basics of safety, health and security, we are also working with the camps to think about values and pluralism in their curriculum. All camps receiving capacity grants were asked to include a structured meaningful Shabbat experience. Staff are the engines and the pulse of the camps and we are focused on their training and development to ensure the safety and magic of the camp experience. We look forward to encouraging Israelis to participate in resources already in place in this country and also through the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
The goal is to grow the overnight population in nonprofit camps by 1000 campers for summer 2020 and within 3 years have a minimum 10,000 adolescents/teens experiencing an immersive multi week summer camp experience each year. It is estimated that today under 3000 Israelis from ages 11- 17 have access to this opportunity on an ongoing basis. We are envisioning the camps as a place you return to each year, not a “one – off” experience. In time we plan to reach out to non-Israelis from abroad to come and join these camps, using this as a tool to shorten the bridge between the Jewish people.
The talent and passion are here, the resources are limited. We would have felt comfortable giving grants to all 17 of the applicants we interviewed as each presented a unique and creative approach which no doubt will fill a niche if resources are available. As a result, I have been reaching out to other funders to join us on this journey. Each conversation I have with a potential partner funder reinforces my commitment to the cause as I see how warmly the concept is received. We also now have the participation of both JAFI and KKL, each offering resources that fit the needs of summer camps.
There are no politics or other agenda in this initiative. We are just about improving civic society in Israel and accessibility. Our youth deserve the opportunity to be kids, to play outside, to be challenged, to discover new friends and to have fun and we as adults are responsible for building a more engaged and inclusive civil society. I firmly believe our future leadership will emanate from informal educational experiences that breed adaptivity and resourcefulness.
Shawna Goodman Sone is Chair, Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation & The Shawna Goodman and Todd Sone Family Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected]