New Jersey’s “first couple of Jewish overnight camp” — Elisa Spungen Bildner and Rob Bildner of Montclair — will be the honorees at the 2011 United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest benefit concert on May 15.
The annual event has always paid tribute to community philanthropists and featured exceptional musical performances, but that is where any similarity to the first 13 UJA concerts ends. For the first time, the event is moving from its previous venue, the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark, to the Community Theatre at the Mayo Center for the Performing Arts in Morristown. Rather than evening attire, attendees are encouraged to dress “camp casual.” And this year, the main attraction will be preceded by a free outdoor family concert on the Vail Mansion Great Lawn featuring Jewish rocker Sheldon Low.
In the theater, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lucas Richman, will present a Slavic-tinged program of rhapsodies and dances by Beethoven, Dvorak, and Wieniawski and conclude with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Special guest violinist Brittany Sklar of Garfield will perform.
The event’s new look and feel reflect the passion of the Bildners, who in 1998 established the Foundation for Jewish Camp. The nationwide umbrella organization for Jewish camping sponsors research, retreats, and learning opportunities for camping professionals and is behind the One Happy Camper $1,000 incentive grants for youngsters having their first-time Jewish overnight camping experience.
The Bildners also cochair the MetroWest Jewish Camp Enterprise to advocate and promote Jewish camping to local families.
“We invited the Bildners to be our honorees this year for two reasons,” said Jeff Korbman, assistant executive vice president at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. “They are doing an incredible amount of work for Jewish camping, and the importance of Jewish camping, looking forward, seems to be growing exponentially in terms of impact. They also represent a generation of boomers, who are now the heart and core of this community’s supporters.”
In addition, for just the second time, this year’s proceeds will be divided, with 75 percent benefiting UJA MetroWest, 25 percent going toward scholarships through the MetroWest Jewish Camp Enterprise.
“This is win-win for federation and Jewish camping. It ties the two together even more strongly,” said Elisa Spungen Bildner in a phone interview with NJJN. She pointed out that according to recent research completed by FJC, “Jewish camp produces federation supporters in far greater numbers than the general community.”
In a separate conversation, Rob Bildner said the couple and organizers decided to play with the concert format in an effort to “transform the event a little, to make it more engaging, more appealing, and more casual,” he said. “By shaking things up, we believe we may engage younger families and people who have not been involved in supporting the concert in the past.”
The new dress code, he added, reflects the ethos of camp. “Camp is one of the most casual, informal living experiences out there. You’re outdoors, in the woods, in a cabin. So we thought the concert should be more informal.”
He credited ad journal chairs Archie Gottesman and Gary DeBode with the idea to bring in Sheldon Low, who has deep ties to Jewish camping and spends summers touring Jewish camps and who, accompanied by local youngsters, will be part of the program inside the concert hall as well, singing the American and Israeli national anthems.