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Camping confab focuses on new audiences
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Camping confab focuses on new audiences

Day camps and diverse families are the buzz at leadership meeting

Camp and synagogue professionals affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ came together to brainstorm.     
Camp and synagogue professionals affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ came together to brainstorm.     

new initiative to broaden the market for Jewish camping will offer grants of up to $25,000 to overnight or day camps, federations, and Jewish community centers.

The “I Belong to Jewish Camp” program was unveiled during the March 6-8 Foundation for Jewish Camp’s 2016 Leaders Assembly held at the Hilton in East Brunswick.

The program’s targets include interfaith families, those with young children, LGBTQ families, campers with disabilities, and those with diverse perspectives on Israel; it also aims at attracting Jewish campers who might normally drop out in their teen years. 

The FJC, cofounded by Montclair philanthropists Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, also plans to focus more attention on Jewish day camps. 

The Gottesman Fund of New York provided funding to hire an FJC senior consultant for day camp initiatives. 

FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman, in an interview with NJJN on the second day of the gathering, said he was proud of the work his organization has done over the last 18 years “to elevate the field of Jewish camp” and wanted to do the same, specifically, for day camps. 

“We have over 40 day camps here and over 70 day camp professionals,” said Fingerman. “Nine to 10 percent of the people here are Jewish day camp professionals. Four years ago you would have had zero or just a handful. This is an exciting time, and the feedback we’re getting from federations and congregations is that day camps want to grow and want to improve their facilities.”

As part of the day camp focus, FJC is partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to analyze data on the scope and needs of congregational day camps.

The conference attracted about 750 attendees representing day and overnight camps, Jewish federations, and “One Happy Camper” partners, who award incentive grants for first-time campers.

“I Belong to Jewish Camp” grant applications, which must be submitted by May 16, are designed “to drive enrollment during the summer of 2017,” said Fingerman.

“We feel it’s imperative for the Jewish community that we help to lead the discussion about including diverse populations,” he told NJJN. “Amid all the debate in the Jewish world, there is agreement about the integral role camp plays in the development of strong Jewish identities. 

“We have a responsibility that we take very seriously: to think creatively about how Jewish camp can be even more accessible and part of everyone’s life,” Fingerman said. “Resourcing and supporting day camps and expanding the Jewish camp family will influence the future of Jewish life in North America.”

The conference featured breakout sessions on dozens of topics, including keeping campers safe, Hebrew language programs, interacting with parents, training staff to empower campers with disabilities, and alumni engagement and fund-raising.

Camp leaders, organizations, and founders from across North America who made significant contributions to the field of Jewish camp were honored at an assembly dinner March 6. From Greater MetroWest, honorees were FJC cofounders Elisa Spungen Bildner and Rob Bildner of Montclair; Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg of Union; Archie Gottesman and Gary DeBode of Summit; Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown; and the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future.

At the gathering, Tracy Levine, director of One Happy Camper NJ at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, oversaw a “best practices” lunch meeting March 7 of synagogue educators and camp leaders. 

Susan Werk, education director at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, said the conference was a “rewarding” experience. “It’s very important that synagogues are part of every time frame in a child’s life,” she said. “Synagogue and camp work together harmoniously.” 

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