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Camps see the future, and it’s on the web
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Camps see the future, and it’s on the web

At biennial confab, tech sessions attract a woodsy crowd

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Among the 500 attendees at the conference were Helene Drobenare, center, and Marci Soifer, right, director and assistant director, respectively, of Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake.
Among the 500 attendees at the conference were Helene Drobenare, center, and Marci Soifer, right, director and assistant director, respectively, of Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake.

Maybe it was at Camp Kinneret, a Jewish overnight camp in Quebec, that Mitch Joel learned something about navigation.

But when it comes to finding Jewish camps on-line, Joel said, he’s lost.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research on your industry. If I want to find you and I go into a search engine, a lot of you I cannot find,” Joel told some 500 Jewish camping leaders in Jersey City on Sunday. “That first page of search results? Before I even go to your site, that is the brand experience.”

Joel, a digital communications guru, was the opening speaker at the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s third biennial conference, held March 14 and 15 in Jersey City.

Joel’s big ideas about digital marketing served as a focal point for the conference, where digital newbies could rush from his keynote address to sessions offering tips on social networking, branding, and targeting new markets. At a session on using free media to promote camp, Ari Geller, vice president at the Jewish public relations company Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, urged camps to “look at the blogosphere” to tell their story.

Attendees could, of course, choose to ignore all the sessions on marketing and media and instead focus on boosting their bottom-line finances, building successful boards, attracting Russian Jews to summer residential camps, and finding ways to obtain information from customer satisfaction surveys.

One of the most popular sessions centered on making camps more environmentally friendly.

Rabbi Jeff Eisenstat, founding director of Camp JRF, the Reconstructionist movement’s camp, which draws up to 30 local campers each summer, said he took away some important pointers for a new Eco Village his camp will launch in the summer of 2011.

Many participants walked away from the conference thinking about how much they don’t know about new media tools. “I need to get a social media tutor tomorrow,” quipped Elisa Spungen Bildner of Montclair, FJC cofounder and cochair of its board of trustees.

Amy Skopp Cooper of South Orange, director of Camp Ramah Nyack, called the conference “a wonderful opportunity for networking, for collaborative thinking, for understanding the new big ideas, and having the opportunity to be reflective and to dream.”

And her specific takeaway? Social media, of course. “There is so much going on with new marketing techniques and new effective ways of communicating,” said Skopp Cooper, who is also assistant director of the Ramah Commission. “It’s so important to keep learning them every few months.”

Tracy Levine, manager of the MetroWest Jewish Camp Enterprise, said she’s already getting into the social media “game” at work. She is working on “getting the dialogue going” by creating a Facebook page and will soon be on Twitter.

“On-line/social media is today’s key forum for information sharing and dialogue,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We need to be there, need to determine how to best engage in these media and, importantly, how to leverage them to create greater interest around Jewish camp and an active on-line community.” 

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