Foundation for Jewish Camp Launches Affordability Program

— by Jason Edelstein

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has launched a new, national program that matches eligible families with high-quality nonprofit Jewish summer camps at a more affordable price.0679_120808-FJC_x_x

BunkConnect has launched nationally with 75 participating camps, representing various movements and denominations. The program is for first-time campers, basing eligibility on a family’s adjusted gross income, number of dependent children, and place of legal residency.

After income-eligible families supply some basic, confidential information into the program’s online system, the system matches them with available camp sessions at low introductory rates (between 40% and 60% off list prices). This initiative is modeled after the success of FJC’s One Happy Camper program – a need-blind grant initiative for first-time campers.

For more information, or to determine eligibility, please visit BunkConnect’s website.

Camps Pinemere, Galil, Harlem to Recieve JCamp180 Challenge Grant

Camp Pinemere

Camp Pinemere, Camp Galil (Habonim Dror) and Camp Harlem (Reform) have been named recipients of a Chai Match 2 challenge grant from JCamp180, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. The three camps are eligible to receive up to $18,000 in matching funds to renew camp facilities and provide operating and scholarship support. The camps have time until March 2014 to raise gifts and pledges that fulfill the camp’s portion of the matching grant program.

During the past eight years, JCamp180 has contributed over $11.7 million in matching grant funds to non-profit Jewish overnight summer camps throughout North America. The 25 participating camps have one year to raise matching funds in a two-phase matching campaign. The camps must use at least half of the overall funds raised for capital improvements.

Boycott Divestment Summer Camp

— by Alana Goodman

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Free Beacon

Anti-Israel college students will trek to a scenic campsite in upstate New York this summer to learn how to launch campus boycotts against the Jewish state at a program subsidized and run by one of America’s largest Quaker faith groups.

The American Friends Service Committee “We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute” describes itself as a “five (5) day intensive program for campus [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] organizers-those with campaigns already running and those hoping to get one launched in the 2013-2014 school year.”

More after the jump.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was officially launched by a network of pro-Palestinian groups in 2005 and seeks to use economic and cultural boycotts to isolate Israel, force the government’s hand on Palestinian negotiations, and evoke comparisons between the Jewish state and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Students attending the AFSC’s Summer Training Institute, which is also sponsored by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, will participate in “anti-oppression analysis workshops,” “non-violent direct action planning,” and “strategy sessions with BDS movement leaders,” according to the AFSC website.

The program runs from July 28 to Aug. 1 and promises “fun in a summer camp-like environment!” The cost of room and board is subsidized by the AFSC and the JVP, according to the website.

An AFSC official said the number of attendees for this year is not yet finalized and said the 2013 program will focus on “call[ing] attention to what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories while supporting a just and lasting peace that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Pro-Israel groups have vehemently opposed the BDS movement, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report that said the campaign was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment in March.

“It doesn’t help a single Palestinian. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for Palestinians. It is simply anti-Israel,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, the community of the people associated with this particular church have embraced [the BDS campaign] completely, so much so that they are using up whatever moral capital they have to do training for an immoral, hypocritical, and anti-Semitic undertaking.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center report said the BDS program meets Natan Sharansky’s “three D’s” test for anti-Semitism: It follows “double-standards” by criticizing Israel while overlooking human rights abuses across the Arab world; “demonizes” Israel by comparing its actions to those of Apartheid regimes; and attempts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state by targeting its existence.

Cooper said students attend these events “thinking their actions are doing the equivalent of the folks that [participated in] the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or following the route of Martin Luther King Jr.-complete and utter nonsense.”

“What a shame, for young people, who are highly motivated that want to do something good in the world,” he added.

The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, objected to the argument that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic.

“We see nothing inherently anti-Semitic in the use of these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole,” said Merryman-Lotze. “Are BDS opponents next going to argue that these same tactics were anti-White in the Jim Crow south and apartheid era South Africa?”

Merryman-Lotze also disputed claims from critics that the campaign has been ineffective.

“Why, if BDS is ineffective and largely a failure, have the Israeli government and groups like the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, and AIPAC invested millions of dollars in developing campaigns to counter minimally funded grassroots BDS activism?” said Merryman-Lotze. “If our efforts are ineffective, why write a story about our planned training program? The answer is that BDS is effective and successful.”

While the BDS campaign has gained traction on college campuses and won support from some high-profile names such as Elvis Costello and Stephen Hawking, it has failed to have an impact on the Israeli economy or influence policy.

Israel’s tech industry in particular continues to boom, with Google purchasing Israeli company Waze for $1 billion on Tuesday.

“Culturally-just this week-two enormous, international sporting events were held in Israel,” one D.C. Jewish organization official told the Free Beacon. “Economically, the world’s largest tech companies are rushing to invest there. Politically, Israel stands out more than ever as the only stable Western ally left in the entire Middle East.”

The BDS movement’s failure to meet its objectives suggests that efforts to fund and support the campaign are aimed at opposing the Jewish state rather than achieving any legitimate policy goal, according to pro-Israel advocates.

According to the D.C. Jewish organization official.

“You’ve really got to ask yourself where boycott advocates keep getting the energy, given that efforts to economically and culturally isolate Israel have been an utter failure. Let’s pretend that boycotters succeed in getting everyone to stop buying Israeli hummus, which is something they actually think is important. If they keep that up for a few thousand years, it will almost offset this week’s billion-dollar acquisition of Waze by Google. No company in its right mind is ever going to boycott a country that’s been nicknamed ‘Start-Up Nation.'”

Giving Back, Going Green and Growing Bigger

— by Alicia Zimbalist

Foundation for Jewish Camp Presents Summer 2011 Trends

As summer 2011 winds down and record numbers of kids are coming home from Jewish camp, parents all over North America are wondering: What did my child do this summer at camp?  The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is pleased to share that amidst the lip dubs and flash mobs, campfire sing-alongs and Maccabiah competitions, kids of all ages were participating in a variety of amazing and inspiring activities at nonprofit Jewish overnight camps this summer.

More than 70,000 children and 10,000 counselors experienced overnight Jewish summer camp this year.  Over 10,000 of these campers did so with a need-blind incentive grant from FJC’s One Happy Camper program (OHC).  OHC works in partnership with over 67 organizations including Jewish federations, foundations, national camp movements, individual camps, the Jim Joseph Foundation (JWest), and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s PJ Library program (PJ Goes to Camp) to provide $700-1500 to families for their first, and sometimes second, summer at one of over 150 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps.

More after the jump.
FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator camps, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, completed their second summer and shattered their expected enrollment numbers for summer 2011 with an increase of 67%.  The camps – 92Y Passport NYC, Eden Village Camp, URJ Six Points Sports Academy, Adamah Adventures, and Ramah Outdoor Adventure – offered 1,010 campers, hailing from 34 states and 10 countries, a new kind of Jewish camping.

The Jewish camp community continues to increase opportunities for children with special needs.  As many camps and camp movements already have well-established programs for children with emotional and developmental disabilities, many camps are creating new, more specialized programs going forward.  B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon introduced Kehilah this summer, catering to children with physical and cognitive disorders and the Union for Reform Judaism recently announced a new initiative for special needs programs in their camps and Israel programs with Chazak, a program for children with communication and social delays at Eisner and Crane Lake Camps.  Dietary needs have also become a priority at Jewish camp.  New Jersey Y Camps partnered with the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center to create the first of its kind a completely kosher, gluten free kitchen.

Greening has been a developing trend in Jewish camping with new innovations introduced each summer.  Many camps grow their own organic gardens and use a hands-on approach to teach campers about the environment, integrating Jewish values and lessons.  This summer, four camps participated in a gardening project by Amir which designed programs to guide in the creation and cultivation of gardens with Jewish educational components.  At Camp Tel Yehudah, Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake, Camp Ramah in California, and Camp Ramah in Canada, Amir representatives helped campers plan, nurture, and harvest new gardens.  The campers also decided how much of their crop they would donate to those in need and helped deliver their crops to local charitable organizations.  nurture Jewish camps are also beginning to take huge steps to lessen their carbon footprint now that basic changes – like changing light bulbs and forgoing disposables – have been made.  Shwayder Camp overhauled their waste water system to an eco-friendly cleaning system.  URJ Greene Family Camp is currently creating an Eco-Village, expected be ready for campers in 2012.  Camp JRF is also working on an Eco-Village which campers participated in the design of this summer and will help with the construction of next summer.

Caring for community and “repairing the world” — tikkun olam — is a key programmatic element of Jewish camp.  Throughout the summer, campers across embark on a variety of philanthropic endeavors on a national and local level.  Four camps piloted a new philanthropy program this summer with help from the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN).  Aimed to provide campers with opportunities to engage in collective philanthropic giving with their peers while guided by Jewish values, camps created programs in which teen campers decided together how and where to donate money provided by JTFN.  Habonim Dror Camp Galil, JCC Maccabi Camp Kingswood, URJ Camp George, and URJ Green Family Camp participated this summer, building on the successful teen philanthropy programs already in place at several of the Ramah camps.  JTFN, in collaboration with FJC, is hoping to expand the initiative next year.

Another way camps modeled tikkun olam as well as pikuach nefesh (saving a life) for campers this summer was through Bone Marrow Donor Drives with the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.  24 camps held drives for counselors and parents (when held on opening/visiting/closing days) to get cheek swabs which entered them into the worldwide registry for patients in need.  Almost 850 new donors were added to the registry from Jewish overnight camps alone between June and August 2011.

“We are so proud of all Jewish camps for what they are doing to create the next generation of strong, committed, compassionate Jews as well as maintaining a healthy planet for them to live on,” says Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO, FJC.  “This summer, my staff and I collectively visited over 80 camps.  At every turn, we were overwhelmed with pride at the innovations taking place throughout the Jewish camp community.”

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is the only public organization dedicated solely to nonprofit Jewish overnight camps. FJC employs a variety of strategies toward a single goal: to increase the number of children in Jewish summer camps.  To this end, the Foundation creates inspiring camp leaders, expands access to and intensifies demand for camp, and develops programs to strengthen camps across the Jewish spectrum in North America.  Through strategic partnerships on local and national levels, FJC raises the profile of Jewish camp and serves as a central resource for parents and organizations alike.  FJC works with more than 150 camps, 70,000 campers, and 10,000 counselors across North America each summer to further its mission.

A Different Kind of Summer Camp

— by Sasha Ben-Ari

The summer of 2011 marks twenty years since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new era for Russian Jewry.  For pain-filled decades, this was a population discriminated against, both in the practice of their religion and in pursuing educational and professional opportunities.  

Two decades later, the situation has changed dramatically. No longer hindered by the constraints of communism and a regime, Russian Jews today, alongside with their compatriots in post-Soviet countries, enjoy most of the liberties previously associated with the West.

Despite this transformation in the society, the challenge of openly displaying Jewish pride in Russia and other former Soviet republics remains a very complex one.  On the one hand, Russian Jews are free to observe their faith and enjoy freedom of expression. In reality, however, many stigmas envelope public displays of observance which is a reflex rooted in decades of anti-religious attitude from the communist era. Sentiments of this kind continue to pervade Russian society.  

In recent years, communal leaders recognized that we were literally losing the battle to sustain Jewish souls and sought to design an innovative solution to focus on youth from Russian speaking families and countries and address this specific challenge. The answer came in the form of one of childhood’s most beloved institutions – summer camp.

More after the jump.

One prime example of turning the tide is Project Rimon, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which for the past three years has been gathering campers together in locations around the world and provided a common ground for Russian speaking Jewish youth who are united by this unique cultural challenge. Participants in the Israel program include Russian speaking teens from former Soviet countries, new immigrants who have come to Israel over the last few years as well as Israeli born children of the great Russian aliya in the early nineties. These children often consider themselves more Israeli than of Russian origin.

In Israel, the population is more of a mosaic than a melting pot. Those with strong identities that deviate from the standard Israeli one can often feel alienated. The Rimon camp organizers realize that while the campers do not have to “feel” Russian, they can uncover the other ways they are one cohesive group – their Jewish heritage.

As is the case with many of Jewish Agency programs, the magical panacea crystallized in focusing on Israel as the source of Jewish pride and inspiration.  Over a two week time frame, these children, many of whom viewed their Judaism as only a fact of their ethnic heritage but never a fundamental, defining aspect of who they were, begin to discover that their Jewish identity could become a central facet of their lives.

By developing leadership and creative skills and having dialogue about Judaism and Israel, the campers begin to change their outlook on what it means to be a Jew and how to incorporate their Judaism into their daily life.
For example, on a day trip to Hasmonean Village in Central Israel, campers discovered their personal and family connections to the land and people of Israel through the language, the food and the dress of various local attractions. Actually seeing the how they are part of the history and heritage of the Jewish people is an important part of the Rimon educational program and one that has the most powerful impact on its participants.

The camp never tries to distance the child from his or her cultural identity – the opposite actually – and we firmly believe that this must remain an integral part of how the camper views themselves.  The many questions campers have of their “dueling identities” between being culturally Russian and Jewish is addressed with compassion and knowledge and children begin to recognize that their strength and uniqueness lies in the very complexity of their cultural heritage, with the connection to Israel at the core.

The author moved to Israel from Moscow in 1990 at age 8. She most recently served as a staff counselor at Project Rimon’s summer camp in Israel. She currently resides in Jerusalem.