What’s in a Name? Changing the Name of Your Jewish Summer Camp … for a Donor

rebranding:renamingBy Maayan Jaffe
eJewish Philanthropy

The Jewish world is into naming. From synagogue social halls to day school classrooms and even the mezuzahs, we tend to honor our donors with a plaque. What happens when a major Jewish institution – such as a school or camp – is named for a historic donor and now a new donor comes along and wants it named for him or her?

This is a question that Camp Daisy and Harry Stein (previously known as Camp Charles Pearlstein) in Scottsdale, Ariz. dealt with as recently as 2012. The camp was approached by a donor who wanted to provide a seven-figure gift that would endow the camp in perpetuity. But that donor wanted the camp named for his parents.

“When the opportunity came and was presented to the camp, Irv Pearlstein [the original donor] was still living,” Camp Director Brian Mitchell explains. Pearlstein was among the camp’s founders in the 1970s and his family had supported the camp in various ways over more than 30 years.

Mitchell says a camp committee, led by the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, the institution that owns and operates the camp, approached Pearlstein to discuss the offer.

“The conversations went on for a bit, but in the end Mr. Pearlstein and his family gave their blessing,” says Mitchell.

In the summer of 2012, Camp Charles Pearlstein held a festive ceremony and announced the decision to become Camp Daisy and Harry Stein.

Camp Stein’s situation is relatively unique, according to Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He says he knows of only two camps – Stein included – that underwent a name change for a donor over the last five-and-a-half years. The other camp was Berkshire Hills Emanuel Camp, which became Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp.

“That [Camp Berkshire] was in honor of multiple seven-figure gifts that really helped to renovate the camp as well,” recalls Fingerman of name change. “Most other major gifts have resulted in camps sites, campuses, certainly large buildings or gathering spaces being renamed.”

Fingerman says the foundation does not get involved in making recommendations for how much money should be given for what recognition. This is something handled on a local level by individual camps. He says he does counsel camps that it is OK to rename parts or all of camp, “as long as the camp is recognizing tradition and the past – that there is some element that remains of honoring the previous family.”

“I think the way to do it is one that honors and respects the old name and the old family gift that was made to make camp possible, but to recognize that there is a continuing need to improve and expand and in some cases that expansion could mean a new naming opportunity,” says Fingerman.

Fingerman projects that the situation in which Camp Stein and Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp found themselves may become increasing common over the next decade, as the amount of philanthropic dollars being invested in Jewish camps for physical improvement is greater now than it ever was over the last 15 years.

“I think so many donors are realizing that the experiences kids are having in camp are transformative,” says Fingerman. “These experiences last a lifetime and these campers feel connected to the physical site of the camp in many cases.”

Mitchell does have some advice for those who might encounter the same shift that he did, coming on as director just as the name change took root.

First: Check if there is any contract or paperwork before entertaining the idea of a name change.

Second: Contact the family (or any current family members) for which the camp is currently named, if possible.

“Before anything goes public, that conversation needs to be had,” says Mitchell.

Third: Be transparent.

Mitchell says that aside from the exact dollar amount of the donation, nothing of the Camp Stein naming transition was kept private.

Four: Make the reasons for the name change clear.

“The Stein gift was given to ensure the future of this camp for many more generations. This was said very clearly to the community,” according to Mitchell. “It was hard for us to say ‘no’ to a gift like this, because we want our children, our children’s children and their grandchildren to go to camp.”

Mitchell notes that even with a solid process, there will still be a meshing of challenges and opportunities. For example, Camp Stein encountered initial resistance from alumni who felt connected to the former name. The camp decided to host some alumni gatherings to engage the alumni in the name-change process, which Mitchell says was helpful.

He also says many people still think Camp Stein is a new camp, which can make recruitment confusing.

“It’s a challenge to inform and educate the public about it. There was confusion then and there still is. When I go to conferences or to recruit throughout North America, I often have to explain more than I would hope is necessary,” he says.

But the fun has been rebranding and considering new ways to market the camp under its new name. Since the name change, enrollment has steadily climbed. It’s not that the slate was wiped clean, says Mitchell, “but we have been able to start over in a different way.”