Welcoming More Families into Jewish Camp

FJC 2016 LogoBy Jeremy J. Fingerman

While the headline from Tel Aviv yesterday spoke of Israel’s religiously divided society, the headline from East Brunswick, NJ demonstrated a unified, aligned, and inspired Jewish community in North America!

Foundation for Jewish Camp just concluded our record-setting 6th biennial Leaders Assembly. Convening the field of Jewish camping in East Brunswick, NJ, we brought together over 750 camp professionals, lay leaders, educators, philanthropists, and communal professionals for three days of looking forward. Day camps, overnight camps, and teen summer experiences worked collaboratively to explore ways to reach more families, to welcome them into the Jewish camping experience, and to create even more transformative Jewish summer experiences.

We believe passionately that Jewish summers are the key to the Jewish future. We know from research that sending young people to Jewish camp connects them to each other, to their Jewishness, and to the broader Jewish community. Critically, Jewish camp also plays a leading role in creating the next generation of Jewish leaders.

Because of all of these positive outcomes, we also believe deeply that Jewish camp must be more inclusive. In our diverse and rapidly evolving world, we strive to serve every kind of Jewish youth, every kind of Jewish camp, and every kind of Jewish community.

Yesterday, we focused the entire assembly on just that; how we can increase the number of campers by expanding our engagement with key diverse populations. The day’s theme, “I belong to Jewish camp,” advanced our efforts to help the field reflect the diversity of today’s and tomorrow’s Jewish community. We have been effective in our efforts to date, but we want to continue to be the best example for the entire Jewish community to emulate.

We announced a new innovative engagement initiative – also titled “I belong to Jewish camp” – offering up to $100,000 in grants to support organizational efforts impacting summer, 2017. This support is designed to increase the number of children attending Jewish camp and to more deeply engage and welcome a more diverse camper community. We hope to stimulate innovative recruiting, outreach, or programmatic efforts by day camps, overnight camps, and federation community partners. Our priority areas include engaging interfaith, multi-ethnic, and LBGBTQ campers and families; making our community more inclusive of campers with disabilities; reflecting diverse perspectives on Israel; and attracting and retaining more college aged counselors, teens, and engaging families with young kids as they make pivotal decisions.

These grants of up to $25,000 will be awarded to high-quality proposals for ideas generating the largest impact. Examples could include (but are not limited to):

  • Marketing campaign/materials for any existing programs that support this effort such as hiring a social media consultant to bolster recruitment efforts
  • Staff training or summer program to integrate a new population to your camp or to better serve existing populations
  • Camps or communities could hire a targeted recruiter with specific events to support efforts

Along with this important initiative, FJC is devoting more resources and capacity to better understand and to better serve the day camp community. We are excited to now apply learnings from our 18 years of growing and professionalizing the Jewish overnight camp field to day camps. Families and staff who choose that environment for their summer Jewish experiences deserve the same high-quality, meaningful Jewish engagement opportunities.

We expect that all of these efforts will provide learnings for all those working in Jewish education and engagement, and will stimulate funders to build on these initial successes. Both the “I belong” grants and the new focus on day camps signal FJC’s commitment to the broader Jewish community: everyone has a place at Jewish camp, and the spirit of Jewish camp has a place throughout every stage of life.

Jeremy J. Fingerman is CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp.