Posts Tagged 'Foundation for Jewish Camp'

Changing Lives, Saving Lives

L’chaim! To life! In Jewish culture, we give small gifts in multiples of the number 18. This may seem arbitrary but in Gematria (an ancient and esoteric method of interpretation in which the numerical value of words can be found in their constituent letter values), “chai” – meaning “life” – is equal to the number 18. In an act that is part gratitude and part mindfulness, we give multiples of the Jewish ‘lucky number’ 18. We take a conscious moment to recognize how fortunate we are for this life we have been given and the blessings in it. While Gematria is a game of sorts, a type of Jewish numerical poetry that has become embedded in the culture, there is no doubt that we as Jews we take life very seriously. We believe that small, symbolic acts like this are habit-forming and ultimately create a life of great character. For Jews, the goal is to live as a Mensch.

Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is celebrating a special chai benchmark – the 18th bone marrow transplant found and facilitated by the Gift of Life Marrow Registry from a member of the FJC Gift of Life donor circle. Through our partnership to grow the donor registry, one quick and painless act – swabbing your cheek to enter a public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry – can result in a match and a transplant for a child or adult suffering from a life-threatening illness, including leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers and genetic diseases. For Jewish camp counselors that sign up with Gift of Life, this is one small act of many, is part of a pattern of kindness and caring for others.

Throughout the summer at camp, the youngest campers are taught to share responsibility with and for their bunkmates by caring for one another and working to keep their communal space clean. They learn kindness and service are Jewish values. Approaching the age of 13 (bnei mitzvah and beyond), even more trust and training is instilled in the camper, who takes on responsibility for leading Jewish traditions at camp and helping younger campers. As counselors at the age of 18, they are trained to nurture the safety, well-being, happiness and Jewish identity of their campers. At this young age they are charged with caring for a bunk of campers, to teach and model these small acts that make Mensches. It is also at 18 that counselors becoming eligible to test – swab – to join the public bone marrow registry to save a life.

Since the founding of FJC’s partnership with Gift of Life in 2010, 4,298 people have swabbed at FJC network camps, providing 120 matches, and recently the 18th transplant. These are extremely high rates of matching and transplants, due in-part to the uniqueness of Jewish DNA, which – like all minorities – is currently underrepresented in the national bank. A non-Jewish Caucasian person has a 98% chance of finding a match in the national bone marrow registry. In 1991 when the Gift of Life was founded, there was only a 5% chance for an Ashkenazi Jew to find a match. With each drive for the registry at Jewish camp, we increase the likelihood that a Jew will find a life-saving match. Thanks to Gift of Life, Ashkenazi Jewish people now have a 85% chance of matching.

We still have much more work to do to ensure that everyone in our family – regardless of ethnic or biological origins – can find a DNA match if they need it. Jewish family extends far beyond the DNA of Ashkenazi Jews, to include Sephardic Jews, Jews of color, Jews by choice, Jews who join their families by adoption and others. Family is not simply an identity, or DNA – it is an act, a behavior, and practice in giving and gratitude. No matter what our genetic makeup, we care for each other and show up to help. Jewish camp is a family.

A DNA match is necessary – but not sufficient to facilitate a transplant. What must really be celebrated as the true success of this program, is the consistency with which former and current Jewish camp counselors answer the call to care for others, help someone in need, and donate. In order to match, facilitate a transplant and share that gift of life you need to first be willing to act. At Jewish camp, we are training one generation to look after the next.

We all know how much Jewish camp changes people’s lives; we do not always think about how it could actually save someone’s life. With this 18th transplant, we celebrate Jewish camp for all of the small, symbolic actions that make up this kind, giving, life-saving family.

Contact Lindsay Katz at lkatz@giftoflife.org to schedule a bone marrow registry drive for your staff.

Reposted from ejewishphilanthropy.com

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Jewish Camp is a Gateway

Recently I had the honor of speaking at a dinner at the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Leaders Assembly 2018 in Baltimore. It was a wonderful conference. Unfortunately the sound was not really working during my speech so well so I figured that I would post the speech.

With Passover soon at hand I wanted to share with you a special story about leaving Egypt, but not the one from our Seder tables.

In sixth century BCE, when building the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a  man named Nicanor set out to attain a special gate for one of the doorways of the Temple. We learn in the Gemara in Yoma:

Nicanor went to Alexandria in Egypt to bring the doors, on his return a huge wave threatened to engulf the boat. To save themselves the ship’s crew took one of the precious doors and cast it into the sea, but still the sea continued to rage tossing the boat around. When the crew prepared to cast the other door into the sea, Nicanor rose and clung to it, saying, ‘Cast me in with it.’ The sea immediately became calm. He was, however, deeply grieved about the other door [lost to the sea]- mitzta’er al haverta- literally- he was saddened about its friend. As they reached the harbor of Akko, the door broke through and appeared from under the sides of the boat.  [Yoma 38a]

Nicanor  teaches us the lessons of grit and determination, selflessness and reward. Just like my mama told me, ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’. Nicanor was willing to give of himself  because for him “Good enough was simply not good enough”. He really wanted these special doors to be in the Temple.

Often when we think about the utility of a gate we think about who it is keeping in or keeping out. That was not the case for Nicanor. He went back to Egypt —  a place of our bondage –for a gate that would adorn the experience of coming and going at the holiest communal space. Like our camps, these doors would house much more than simply people, but holy memories and experiences that form our personal and national identity.

Tonight we come together as a community to celebrate the people who, like Nicanor, really have given of themselves and inspire us with their grit and determination. Camp professionals sacrifice sleep, personal resources and free time in order to go above and beyond in the pursuit of providing meaningful Jewish experiences that shape people’s lives. The Jewish knowledge and experiences we gain at camp give us access.

Jewish camp is a gateway.

Jewish camp is a gateway to make friends for life.

Jewish camp is a gateway to learn valuable skills for our future careers.

Jewish camp is a gateway to get the building blocks for making a Jewish family.

Jewish camp is a gateway to belong to a Jewish community.

Tonight we celebrate just a few of these extraordinary professionals whose hard work and dedication to excellence deserve recognition. Mitzta’er al haverta – We would be at a loss without you friends. First, we will acknowledge some monumental milestones in our field. These are the people who have made the long journey. We are blessed in this room to have people who have been working with generations of campers and staff members, impacting entire communities. 

Next,  FJC, with the support of Avi Chai Foundation, is proud to recognize three early career Jewish camp educators. Though closer to the start of the journey, these professionals  have already inspired their camps with their creativity and commitment to opening up Jewish life to the next generation. Each will get a generous investment of $3600 to be used for continued education to support them in their journey.

And then Genesis Philanthropy Group will recognize one camp that has   made great strides in accessibility for Russian Speaking Jews in our community and the iCenter will recognize two camps which have gone above and beyond to reimagine Israel education.

Tonight we express Hakarat HaTov– gratitude- to people who have clung  to the gate to ensure that Jewish Life is accessible to our community. Each of our honorees shows us that the harder you work the luckier we all get. Their efforts have ensured that more campers, staff members, and their families pass through our gates and connect to the majestic experience of  Jewish camp. They are inspirational.

I also want to take a moment to express my Hakarat HaTov– gratitude to Julie Finkelstein and the rest of the FJC team who have really clung to this Leaders’ Assembly to make it everything thing it is. We all appreciate your self-sacrifice for excellence. And I can see the second gate coming out of the water now.

Thank you  

In Our Own Sight : A New Vision of Jewish Camp

As parents, we want to see our kids succeed in all facets of life – whether that is getting into a certain college, establishing themselves in a career of their choice, or empowering them to compete in the global marketplace. In many ways, our children’s success is the “promised land.”

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In Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are waiting to enter the actual Promised Land. Before entering, God instructs them to send a representative from each of the twelve tribes to check it out. Two spies came back with glowing reports, but the other ten spies told stories of gloom and doom. What would cause the spies to experience the Promised Land so differently? They were given the same information before leaving, and they reported on the same land and people. We read:

‘The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.’ (Numbers 13:31-33)

How we experience life is so often a result of how we see ourselves. It seems that the only difference between our spies was their self-image.

How do we help our children get to the “promised land” of success? We have to stop preparing the way for the child and do the hard work of preparing the child for the way. Instead of just helping the child build up a robust resume, we need to offer them the chance to develop and foster leadership, grit, collaboration, creativity, tenacity, resilience, and a strong self-image.

And, you know what? Summers at Jewish camp encourage the growth of all of these things. Away from our watchful eyes, our campers and staff increase their independence, friendship, confidence, responsibility, and teamwork, along with a sense of peoplehood, community, and heritage. At Jewish camp, they learn 21st century skills and become mensches with strong character.

Here the “promised land” is more than just academic and career-oriented success. It means nurturing social and emotional intelligences, critical-thinking, and problem-solving abilities. It means a new generation that not only “does well” but “does good.” The “promised land” of today is a generation that values self-awareness, self-actualization, and a strong self-image.

Inspired by the life skills that camp has nurtured in generations of campers, we’re highlighting 21st Century Skills for a summer blog series. We’ll be featuring personal stories from camp alumni and professionals across the field exemplifying how Jewish camp provided the ideal environment to become the best version of themselves.

This is the first in a new blog series developed by Foundation for Jewish Camp reposted from eJP 

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

 

 

Seeking Shelter

This past Sunday I convinced my sons to join me out back to put up our Sukkah, ritual dwelling for Sukkot, arguing that it was just a really big Lego set. They were happy to build and play until we got to the s’chach, the cut organic material used as the roof of the sukkah. The boys just did not understand it. The s’chach, as compared to all of the other Lego pieces, did not click or tie into place. So I went on to explain that while it needs to be porous enough so that we can see the stars, minimally the s’chach  must be thick enough so that it provides more shade then sun light in the Sukkah. Of course they asked why?

Just five days after the solemn day of Yom Kippur, we are off to one of the most joyous holidays of the year. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is commonly referred to in our liturgy and literature as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. I began thinking and questioning the so-called happiness of Sukkot. Traditionally on this holiday we read the book of Kohelet. The author of this book retells his investigation of the meaning of life and the best way to live your life. Kohelet proclaims all the actions of humanity to be inherently fleeting, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, and done in vain. This sentiment is well-said in the most quoted line from Kohelet which reads:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Kohelet 1:9)

Learning that life is senseless seems like a real downer for a holiday of happiness. This juxtaposition is only highlighted in that we read this just after Yom Kippur, a day during which we appealed that mercy would win out over justice. If Kohelet is correct, we will never be able to change. Despite our best efforts to repent and atone, we are stuck and should be judged in light of the fact that will never be able to renew ourselves.

Then it all came together for me.

Kohelet is right; nothing is new under the sun. The difference is that just after Yom Kippur we escape the sun under the shade of the Sukkah. There we find shelter from the harsh judgment of the world. If we spend a serious amount of time practicing being the people we aspire to be, we might be able to achieve it throughout the rest of the year. We see a similar dynamic in the shelter of summer camp. There we are able to immerse ourselves in an Eden of our own design. Is there any greater joy then the promise of a better future?

Chag Sameakh-

* Cross-posted on The Canteen

Visit Early

I have been hearing from a lot of people that they are surprised that the High Holidays are so early this year. While this is the earliest that the Jewish calendar comes in the Gregorian calendar year, Rosh HaShanah is always the first of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. While this creates a staffing issue for some camps, New Year “starting so early” has created a wonderful educational opportunity.  It is not every summer that we are able to herald the coming of Elul, the 12th month of the Hebrew calendar, while we are still up at camp. With the advent of Elul we start the daily blowing the shofar and reading of L’David Ori (Psalm 27).

According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul are the time when “the King is in the field.”  The metaphor follows that gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And even then it may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. There seems to be a lot of pressure with of the people in line behind you. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher Rebbe) during Elul “anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the Shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, with limited effort the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.

Camp is an amazing place where many of us had our first experience of spirituality in nature. If there was only a way we could bring those experiences home with us. This resonates with a message from L’David Ori. There we read:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the Lord, and to visit early in God’s temple.  (Psalms 27:4)

But how might we “dwell in the house of the Lord” all year long? How can we bring camp home with us?

In my five years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I have noticed a growing sense of camps working together. There is a reality that camp is camp. And Jewish camp is all about Joyous Judaism. They are not in competition, in reality as they continue to differentiate themselves we as a field are able to reach the broad and diverse needs of our community. Like every other summer, we at the FJC hit the road to see the camps that we work with year round. I have had the joy of experiencing the growth of this field. There is a sense of the significance and sense of common purpose which lends a certain valiance of spirituality to our work. Going from camp to camp we can share with the directors a grand vision of the varieties of expressions of robust Jewish life and how it animates the cultures created in each camp’s community. Each camp is creating an environment in which their campers and staff feel that they belong, make a difference, and are part of something bigger then themselves. In these moments we can experience the mystery, magic, and majesty of Jewish peoplehood.

With the advent of Elul we all have a chance to think about this upcoming year. If you love Jewish camp, want to learn from it, contribute to it, or find a way to connect to that sense of belonging like we did in that field at camp join us this March 23-25, 2014 Leaders Assembly 2014: One Field Moving Forward. Have a wonderful New Year.

– As seen on FJC Blog

A Sense of Israel

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of serving on the faculty for The Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History. With generous support from The Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, the AVI CHAI Foundation, and The Marcus Foundation, this collaboration between the iCenter and Foundation for Jewish Camp is able to engage 24 independent Jewish camps in North America in the development of an Israel education curriculum.  The goal is to enhance and expand the commitment of North American camps to Modern Israel History, and to enable Jewish campers across the age spectrum to have a deeper connection with Israel outside of camp.

In the training I was able to ask the Goodman fellows a series of questions: What is the type of food that reminds you of Israel? How would you describe the taste of this food? What feelings, if any, does this evoke? What is a smell that makes you think of Israel? What is something you’ve seen in Israel that you would want to see again? What sounds remind you of Israel? If you were to reach out and imagine touching something from Israel, what would it feel like?

The process of looking at Israel through taste, smell, sight, sound and touch made Israel come alive. This line of questions also helped the staff prepare for their work with campers this summer. In answering the questions they discovered the foundations for the Israel stories they wanted to tell this season. I was not fully prepared for the fact that I would also have Israeli staff members as part of the camps’ Goodman cohort, but even more than their North American peers, this process helped them “thin slice” to capture an aspect of Israeli life to share with their campers. The Israelis shared with me that they were surprised by their answers, but looking at Israel through the limited perspective of single sensory experiences gave them a way to communicate the many textures of Israel without losing the nuance or overwhelming the camper with an avalanche of facts. Through the lens of the personal “touch” of Israel, they could see how the Jewish state might touch their campers.

I am excited to see how these Goodman Fellows will impact our campers this summer. I have a sense it will be wonderful.

– Also posted on the FJC’s Campfire


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