Posts Tagged 'FJC'

Cornerstone Banner- A Model for Pluralism

At the start of BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read of the desert encampment of Israel. There we read:

When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it.  ( Numbers 2:2)

I want to think about the need for the “distance” , but first I want to explore the meaning of the banners. According to Rav Hirsch the banner   דגל is related to דקל, which is a tree that can be seen all around.  Rav Hirsch also explains the phrase תמרות עשן similarly – like a תמר tree (דקל), that can be witnessed in all directions (and from all perspectives). Their banner was their signature stand out trait. They needed to maintain distance so that they could witness and appreciate each others stand out traits.

This seems like a wonderful model for pluralism for our community. We should strive to come together with people who you are different from us and make sure that we give each other  space to witness and appreciate our differences. I am still on my yearly Cornerstone Program high where I get to see this encampment first hand. I got to see 250 2nd year Bunk staff from camps all over North America come together to learn how to enrich Jewish life for their fellow staff and campers. In the name of helping their campers this summer  we brought together representatives from Zionists camps ( Young Judea, Habonim Dror, HaShomer HaTzair, B’Nai Akiva), Community camps, Ramah camps, URJ camps, Day camps , and Independent camps. But this encampment did not try to have them all become the same, but rather gave them all space to stand up for their own beliefs. There seems to be a sacred space when we can both come together and give each other space to hold our banners high.

– Already looking forward to Cornerstone 2015




Revealing Family Passover

We come together for Passover to celebrate our ongoing liberation from slavery. During the seder we will speak at length about the exodus from Egypt, but how did we, the descendants of Jacob, get there? Before we ask how did we end up as slaves we need to ask how did we end up in Egypt?

This story starts with Joseph and his brothers. Annoyed by his being different, they sell him into slavery. Through a turn of events Joseph ends up in a position of power in Egypt. Forced by the famine in the land of Canaan, his brothers unwittingly come before Joseph seeking sustenance. Sitting before them, he is faced with a choice as to whether or not he will keep his identity closeted. The text reads:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he gave his voice in tears; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his voice knows no limits, and everyone in Egypt finds out about his identity. Through Joseph’s coming-out they were all witness to the unfolding of God’s plan.  What started off as a family tragedy was transformed into a divine national comedy.

In modern times we can hear resonance of the Passover cry for justice in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  He wrote that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). I believe that we can hear a corollary to this in the sound of Joseph’s tears. There is an inextricable connection between personal and national revelation. While Moses led us out of Egypt we were not truly free until we experienced God’s revelation at Sinai. Joseph’s personal revelation to his brothers was a precursor to God’s coming out to the nation at Sinai. While we need to seek justice for everyone, we should rise to the challenge of realizing that we will not understand the collective revelation until we are all free to express all of who we are as individuals.

A few months ago I went to a benefit hosted by Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the camp at which I grew up. There were some people there who I had not seen for 20 years. Stepping into that room it was as if we were all back at camp. One hug later it was as if no time had passed. We were family. For a moment there I had a sense of what Joseph and his brothers must have felt so many years ago. Camp avails us of the opportunity to expand our idea of family. There in the presence of our camp family we can give voice to hidden parts of ourselves. There we can start to articulate what we aspire to become in our lives. How can we provide our children with that safe place to reveal all of who they are and who they might become?

At your seder, as the Jewish world sits as equals sharing food, I hope that more of us find safe space to share ourselves with the collective. May you have a very revealing and meaningful Passover.

– Posted from the Canteen

Independence Thinking

Unlike many parents who send their children to overnight camp, I have seen many camps.  As the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I spend my summers on the road visiting various types of Jewish camps across North America. This summer my wife and I are sending our eldest child on his first overnight camping experience. Despite all of my experience, I have anxiety about sending our child away. Just like every other parent, there is no doubt that part of this anxiety is the irrational fear of sending our baby away. But, there is another part of this anxiety which is realizing that while he will always be our baby, when he returns he will have grown up so much. At camp he will experience being included in a community of his own. There he will make deep friendships of his own design. There he will make his own connections to his heritage. There he will have a new sense of independence. And all of this will happen because we will not be there. We have chosen a camp that has role models who manifest our family’s highest values, but in the end he will need to buy into these values for himself. The trick seems to be in the fact that these role models are not telling him who to be, but rather inspiring him to make choices based on their profound example.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that many of the camps that we all send our children to are not so new. Actually, many of them got their start in the late 1940’s or 1950’s. This was a profound period of growth for institutions in the North American Jewish community as it was in the newly founded State of Israel. This is not coincidental. After the cataclysm of the Holocaust we needed a place to call our own.  Both Israel and camps speak to a renaissance of Jewish life. In so much of history we found ourselves defined by those around us. In a land or a camp of our own we found, and continue to find, a unique opportunity to define ourselves on our own terms.

This week we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Israel is an amazing place and I am excited to introduce my children to our homeland. It represents the hope of two thousand years. But for now I am excited for our 9-year-old getting his first taste of independence at camp.

– Also posted on the Canteen blog

The Secret of Our Immortality

In an oft quoted article by Mark Twain on the Jews, he wrote:

…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it …  What is the secret of his immortality?”  (“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899)

Mark Twain seems to capture what has meant to be a Jew in history. For us survival is just not enough, we need to contribute.  But, what is our secret?

In our tradition there is a blessing one says on the occasion of seeing 600,000 or more Jews together. While it is hard to imagine why our tradition has a blessing for what seems to be such a rare occasion, what interests me most is the blessing that we say. It goes:

Baruch Ata Adonay Elokenu Melech HaOlam Khacham HaRazim

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who knows the secrets

God is identified as the one who knows all of our secrets. But still I ask, what are all of these secrets?

Simply put, we are a family. The Jewish community is not just an imagined community, it is a real community. I know this from my work in Jewish Camp. Not just because of the profound feeling of belonging that thousands of campers and hundreds of staff feel every summer, but also from our partnership with the Gift of Life. The Gift of Life is a bone marrow registry that targets the Jewish community which shares a remarkable number of DNA, not often found on other registries. Over that last few years the Foundation for Jewish Camp has partnered with the Gift of Life for “Finding the HERO in You at Camp,” a program to educate and get as many camp staff on the registry as possible. The camps’ staff is the ideal candidate for the registry. They are young, healthy, and ideologically preconditioned to donate if they match. At their local camps they are talking about belonging to the Jewish family. Joining the registry is a great way of actualizing our most basic shared value.

With the simple swabbing of your cheek you give the registry the information to determine if you are a potential match for someone who is suffering from a life threatening disease. To date there have been three matches found from camp drives. Two of these matched where from URJ GUCI and one from Camp Pinemere. One of the ones from GUCI was requested for transplant. Jewish camp is saving lives. This is an exercise in our being a family. Our work with the Gift of Life is helping us achieve immortality by our collective morality. With each cheek swab we reveal more of the secret of our being a family. That surely merits a blessing.

To hear more about Gift of Life and Finding the HERO in You at Camp, we suggest you watch the following video which is shown to staff members at swabbing events:

– As seen on FJC blog

Clouds of Dust

In Behalotecha, this week’s Torah portion,  we read about the movement of the Pillar of Clouds and the sound of two silver trumpets. There we read:

And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped. ( Numbers 9:17)

The absence or presence of the cloud indicated that it was time to set up or break down the camp.

This Sunday starts another season of overnight Jewish camping across North America. Camp would be nothing without the campers. As everyone in camping knows,  the foundation of camping is realizing that it is all about the campers. We train our staff to put the campers first. Camp is all about the campers’ health, safety, emotional well-being, happiness, and spirituality growth. And once we get our whole staff to understand this truth we can explain to them that it was a lie.  It is not only about the campers, it is also founded on the growth of the staff.

In security, safety, and sanctity of camp this summer campers will have the time of their lives. And in making this camp the staff will also be completely transformed. Just as the cloud of God prompted the creating the camp, buses all across North America will kick up clouds of dust bringing in the campers to start another great season of camping. Just like our Torah portion we will encamp. Holiness will reside in our camp communities. I am excited for another summer of security, safety, and sanctity.


Divine Organizational Tension

This last week we hosted graduate students from the Hornstein Program at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. They were in New York learning lessons on how Jewish Non-profits work. In my preparation for their coming I gave some thought to what makes organization achieve optimum productivity. I realize that one of these lessons that I have learned at the FJC comes from Terumah, this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Torah portion and the next week’s as well we learn many details of the construction of Tabernacle and all of the accoutrement. Where there is a clear plan for what  will be built and made, that is not where they start off this large scale project. Rather, they start off with themselves. As we read:

‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing you shall take My offering.( Exodus 25:2)

While their gifts are going to fit into a very clear and focused plan, their gifts were from the heart. At the center of our national narrative is a collaborative non-profit project that celebrates the diverse offerings of every individual while working toward a common goal. It is based on unity without forcing uniformity.

And about this project God says:

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

The text does not say “make this building so that I can dwell in it“- the Tabernacle, but rather in “them”. If it were just a random gifts from their hearts that did not fit into a master-plan, it would not amount to anything. It is clear that the purpose of this project is not the material or the construction, but rather the act of their coming together itself.

As a non-profit we at the Foundation for Jewish Camp are not running after making money. We are not even limited to getting more Jewish children to overnight camps  with Jewish missions. We see camp as a tool for  creating community. Camp is a place that people are moved to share from their hearts. We aspire to model that in our organization itself. While everyone has a role and we have a clear strategic plan, we try to tap into everyone’s individual passions.  In speaking with the students from Hornstein I realized that more organizations need to tap into the wellspring of this divine tension. It is here where our personal passions meet a common plan that organizations will achieve greatness.

Cornerstone Excitement

Two weeks ago at this time I was at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania. I go there twice a year on a trip for the Cornerstone Fellowship. I am really excited about Cornerstone this year. While it could be the record number of camps participating in our largest seminar yet or the number of campers whose lives will be enriched their Cornerstone role models back at camp this summer, neither is the reason. In every respect, Cornerstone is committed to role modeling. That is not limited to the work that we hope the Fellows do in the summer or even the May seminar. Role modeling is also critical to our winter planning seminar.

We do not just hire staff and tell them to do a job; we bring them up to the site to train them and run through what we are looking to see in May. And we are not just doing that, we take time away to have them model sessions with their peers and get feedback from each other. In the words of Jonah Canner, one of our returning Cornerstone faculty members:

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is, as an experiential educator, to have opportunities to play the role of participant in workshops and activities that are similar in nature to the ones that I am often the facilitator of. It lets me see other facilitator’s styles, remember what it is like to be facilitated, and step outside of my own creative process, to learn from and provide feedback to my peers. Perhaps most importantly it reminds to not over think things, to not be too complicated. It reminds me that in experiential education; most of the heavy lifting is done by the participants. As a facilitator my job is to frame the experience in context and reflection. My job is to create a safe place where the participants can trust me, trust each other, and trust themselves. My job is to bring them in and then get out of the way. (from Jonah’s blog)

At the core we are doing something unique at Cornerstone. Every year we are exploring what it means to be enriched by Jewish pluralism. Cornerstone is not about the small reading of pluralism, meaning orchestrating everyone playing together nicely in the sandbox. Cornerstone aspires to motivate Jewish cultural change at camp by inspiring and empowering fellows and liaisons to develop and implement experiential programming for campers and staff that speaks to the diversity of Jewish life while embracing a variety of learning styles and modes of expression. This starts with the faculty loving being part of a community that celebrates diversity and is enriched by excellence. I left our winter retreat inspired by all of the ways to be and express what it might mean to be Jewish. I am confident that when the Cornerstone Fellows arrive in May they will follow our lead and want to bring their best forward.

-As posted on the Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog

An Educational Chanukah

In Hebrew we translate the word education as chinuch, but the reverse is not true. Chinuch cannot be translated simply into English as education. Proverbs instructs us Chanuch [same root as Chinuch]LaNaar al Pi Darko – to “Initiate a child in his way so when the child is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Alternatively, when you move into a new house, you would invite people over to join you in celebrating a Chanukat[same root as Chinuch]HaBayit,a dedication of your new house. I am thinking about this  today in that it is the 1st day of Chanukah[same root as Chinuch] -itself the holiday when we celebrate the rededication of Temple by the Hasmoneans. As we learn from Rashi – the premier Medieval Rabbinic Commentator – “the root ChaNaCh [same root as Chinuch] means the beginning  of the entry of a person or an implement into the craft in which he/it is destined to stay” (Rashi on Genesis 14:14). It follows that Chinuch– Jewish education – is truly about dedication and initiation.

Any of you who know me know that I  believe in camp. It is not just that I think camp is a lot of fun, camp has the potential to a place of serious Jewish education. Camp is a special learning environment with a very tight “learning loop”, holistic cycle where the camper pays attention to the counselor because the camper wants to follow the counselor’s example and join the camp’s staff in the near future. In this sense the chanichim [same root as Chinuch]– campers- are truly initiates to the larger learning project of camp. But ultimately the goal of camp is not just to train the next generation of madrichim– counselors, it is about preparing the next generation.  Ideally every camper is a future staff member who in turn will be an active member of the Jewish community and productive member of society.

The true nature of fire is that it can spread without diminishing itself. In so many ways Chanukah is not about the rededication of the temple, rather it is about the rededication of our selves. It is the mission of the Foundation for Jewish Camp to bring more chanichim to camp so they can spread that light to the world. Who knew no much education could happen around a camp fire?

– This is the product of a conversation I had this week with Jeremy Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in preparation for the FJC Board Meeting this coming week.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 241 other subscribers

Archive By Topic

%d bloggers like this: