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A groundbreaking gift for Jewish camping
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A groundbreaking gift for Jewish camping

$5 million endowment boosts federation’s role as national role model

Archie Gottesman, shown here with her husband Gary DeBode, and their children, from left, Lilli, Sophie, and Ella DeBode, said though she didn’t go to Jewish camp herself, she has seen the wonderful benefits her children have derived from them.
Archie Gottesman, shown here with her husband Gary DeBode, and their children, from left, Lilli, Sophie, and Ella DeBode, said though she didn’t go to Jewish camp herself, she has seen the wonderful benefits her children have derived from them.

The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ will administer the largest endowed community-based Jewish camp program in North America, thanks to a groundbreaking $5 million gift and other support aimed at ensuring that local children attend Jewish overnight camps.

The gift from the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest will create a permanent Greater Metro­West Jewish Camp Fund, to be housed at the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving and endowment arm of the federation.

The Gottesman Foundation gift, as well as gifts from other donors, will also create the first endowed full-time Jewish camp position in a federation in North America and will provide ongoing support for many related programs run by the Jewish Camp Enterprise launched by the federation in 2010.

Those programs include as many as 250 incentive “camperships” for first-time overnight campers each summer, community-wide marketing of Jewish camp, more affordable camp options for families, and a “pipeline” program to encourage Jewish day campers to transition to Jewish overnight camp.

“This will be the largest endowed community program and will set the standard for others across North America,” said Jeremy Fingerman, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

He said the Jewish Camp Enterprise has already inspired similar community-wide programs in Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto, and elsewhere.

About $9 million has been committed to the Jewish Camp Enterprise since its launch. Since then, the number of local children attending Jewish overnight camp each summer has jumped 26 percent — well ahead of the national increase of 10 percent, officials said. Leaders of the program attribute the increase to a combination of incentive grants, a full-time professional focused solely on Jewish camp, creative marketing, close collaboration with area camps, and ties to synagogues, schools, and agencies.

The community recently awarded its 1,000th “One Happy Camper” grant of $1,000, which translates to a total investment of $1 million to date on incentive grants alone (see sidebar).

The Jewish Camp Enterprise is led by cochairs Archie Gottesman and Gary DeBode of Summit and Rob and Elisa Spungen Bildner of Montclair. The Bildners are the cofounders of the FJC, and Archie Gottesman — daughter of Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown — is an FJC board member.

Major donors to the Jewish Camp Enterprise include the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future, the Gottesman-DeBode family, Rob and Elisa Spungen Bildner, Allen and the late Joan Bildner, the Greater MetroWest federation, FJC, and the Aidekman Family Foundation.

“Jewish parents already send their children to camp, but there are too many still who don’t have Jewish camp on their radar,” Archie Gottesman told NJ Jewish News. “We’re on a mission: Camp shouldn’t just be a place where you send your child for the summer; it should be a place where Jewish souls blossom — a place that helps your child become a mensch and that gives them a joyful Jewish experience.

“We won’t get everyone, but we can do much better.”

The Jewish Camp Enterprise is headquartered at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life in Whippany, the federation’s Jewish identity agency, and is headed up by Jewish camp manager Tracy Levine, whose position will be endowed under the Gottesman gift.

Over the past four years, Levine has had over 900 consultations with local Jewish families and promoted Jewish camp at scores of events in synagogues and at other locations where Jewish families gather.

“This incredible gift will enable us to continue impactful outreach to many new families who ‘age-in’ each year, help match each child with their ‘perfect camp,’ and embark on new initiatives such as affordability,” said Levine. The result will be “thousands of Greater MetroWest children and teens having the transformative experience of Jewish overnight camp and thus the foundation to become strong community members and leaders in the future.”

The GMW federation has agreed to provide annual funding to the program at a minimum of $50,000 a year beginning in 2014.

With income from the endowment and ongoing support from the federation, FJC, the Cooperman Fund, and others, the community is expected to spend up to $400,000 annually on Jewish camp programs — one of the largest sums of any community in North America. The largest single expense for GMW is the “campership” incentive grants.

The funding will enable GMW to continue current Jewish camp programs and try out new initiatives.

For example, GMW plans to partner with the FJC to pilot camp experiences targeting moderate-to-lower-income families in the area.

In addition, the Cooperman Fund has spearheaded a “pipeline” program that encourages campers at Camp Deeny Riback — the JCC MetroWest day camp — to “graduate” to NJY Camps, a JCC-affiliated Jewish overnight camp that is popular with many local families. As part of the initiative, GMW sponsored a two-year “Fundraising and Leadership Academy” for area camp directors and board members. Future plans call for similar collaborative training programs.

“Camp Works,” a 2011 study by the FJC, found that children who attend Jewish overnight camp are significantly more likely to become committed Jewish adults who support federations, join synagogues, light Shabbat candles, and feel emotionally attached to Israel.

Additionally, according to a 2010 study by Jack Wertheimer of the Jewish Theological Seminary, one in three Jewish professionals — including rabbis and teachers — started out as counselors at Jewish camp, and seven in 10 young Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s attended Jewish camp.

Max Kleinman, executive vice president/CEO of the GMW federation, noted that about 80 percent of the families who receive the incentive grants send their children to the same camp the following year without the benefit of the grant. “That shows that it works,” he said.

While his federation leads the way nationally in day school endowment, he continued, “Only about 10-15 percent of Jewish children are sent to day schools. That’s why residential camps are so important, and the research shows that they are really effective in building lasting Jewish identity. Combined with what is being done with day schools, and programs like PJ Library and Birthright [Israel] and post-Birthright programs, you can see that our community is at the cutting edge in terms of investing in our Jewish future.”

Spungen Bildner said, “I’m so proud of the Gottesman Family Foundation and Greater MetroWest for being one of the most forward-thinking Jewish communities, in recognizing the astounding impact that Jewish camp has had and will continue to have on Jewish kids for the ages.”

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