Posts Tagged 'Foundation for Jewish Camp'

Model Lesson

According to Jewish Law it is the practice to refrain from getting married between Passover and Shavuot – until Lag B’Omer (Shulchan Aruch 493:1). Lag B’Omer celebrates the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, a verbal counting of each of the 49 days from Passover till Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-16). It is recorded that this practice serves as a memorial for the students of Rabbi Akiva,  Tanna of the middle of the 2nd  century, who perished during this period of time. Their deaths came to an end (or at least a break) on Lag B’Omer. But, why did the students of Rabbi Akiva die? And why would we mourn their death by refraining from getting married?

We can start to answer these questions by looking at the Gemara in Yevamot. There we learn:

Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbata to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: “All of them died between Passover and Shavuot”.  (Yevamot 62b)

It seems strange that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did “not treat each other with respect”. Rabbi Akiva taught that “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is the great underlying principle in the entire Torah (Torat Kehonim 4:12 and Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4).It would be surprising that even just one student of this great Tanna did not learn such a basic lesson. What is the additional significance of the quantity of students who died?

It might be helpful to learn some more about who Rabbi Akiva was as a teacher. Despite his humble beginnings as a shepherd, Rabbi Akiva became a tremendous scholar. And while he had a tremendous effect on Jewish life, he was not without flaws. We learn in the Gemara that during the 24 years in which he accumulated these 24,000 students he did not see his wife once (Ketubot 62b-63a). There is no doubt that Rabbi Akiva loved his wife Rachel dearly. He gave his wife credit for all of the Torah they learned during his time away from her. When his students first met his wife he told them explicitly that they were all indebted to his wife. And here is the issue. While living apart from his wife for all of those years Rabbi Akiva did not show his students the daily habits of respect. How were his students to learn how to treat each other with respect if Rabbi Akiva did not model this for them?

On Lag B’Omer we should take a moment and try to learn the lesson that evaded Rabbi Akiva’s students. How should we treat each other with respect? It is clearly not enough to just talk about it. If we want to teach respect we need to model it.

It is in light of this that we see the real power of Jewish camp as an educational institution. As the adage goes, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” In school we are told a lot of things, but in camp the staff members model the most important lessons. And on the highest level we are all asked to get involved in creating the community.

– As seem on 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

Camp Transforms Me to We

During Yom Kippur we pray the “Al Chet” confession of sins ten times. We repeat again and again the phrase, “On the sin we have sinned…”.  While there is a lot to be said about the particular sins that we are trying to atone for with this prayer, it is notable that the prayer is not in the first person singular but in the voice of “we”.  While enforcing collective punishment can be unjust, taking collective responsibility is transformative. Before we can talk about repairing our own sins, we have to spend some time repairing our sense of being part of a collective. We might struggle to get into the rhythm and tunes of the High Holidays because we have spent the rest of the year listening to our own playlists. In many ways, we are all still bowling alone.  Judaism might have lost being sticky because society in general has lost its glue.

One of the amazing aspects of Jewish camp is that it is a special place where community really comes together. And this past summer, we saw examples of camps working together on new initiatives to further expand on that idea of community. First, URJ’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp (a Reform camp based in Mississippi) and Camp Darom (an Orthodox camp based in Memphis) came together to celebrate the 4th of July (see story). We also saw a joint Maccabiah games for teens from the leadership programs of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and teens from BBYO (see story). An amazing Matisyahu concert at NJY camps (Camp Cedar Lake) gathered campers from URJ Kutz Camp, Habonim Dror Camp Na’aleh, and Camp Tel Yehudah (see story).  Through these camps, an amazing “we” is developing.

When I think about the “Al Chet”,it is easy to get stuck thinking about all the bad things that I did last year. However, when I look back on this summer, I am inspired. It is at camp that the kind of community that teaches us to speak in the first person plural is created. Camp is a place where all of the “me’s” can be transformed into a “we”. Together we can accomplish anything.

May we all have a very meaningful New Year.

– from 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.


Raise Your Flag

In Bamidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own flag, with the signs of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. (Numbers 2:2)

There they organized themselves around the central tent of meeting according to their households. Rashi, the classical 11th century commentator, explains that each had their own flag with its own unique color to distinguish it from other flag so that each person could recognize his or her flag.

This past week, we at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with the support of the Avi Chai Foundation, ran our 10th Cornerstone Fellowship. This brought a record 277 senior bunk staff from 51 camps to deepen Jewish programming at their camps this summer. And for the first time this year, Cornerstone fellows were eligible to receive college credit for their participation in the program, as part of a new course called Experiential Education at Jewish Summer Camp, which I am running with the help of Dr. Alvin Mars through the American Jewish University.  Students will focus on the basics of envisioning and implementing programs for informal Jewish educational experiences at camp while deepening their capacity for reflective practice, which will help professionalize the field of Jewish camping.

Looking around at our Cornerstone encampment this year, I could see a wide array of the colors of Jewish life in North America: Secular Zionists, Community camps, Hebrew language camps, Ramah, URJ, Bnai Brith, as well as many others. Each brought their unique flavor (and camp SWAG!), and turned what they learned at Cornerstone into a detailed action plan for enriching the Jewish culture of their camp. The diversity of camps learning and dreaming together spoke not only to their unique identities and passion for Jewish life, but also to our strength and success as a Jewish camping movement.

Another word for degel flag is nes, which in Hebrew also means “miracle.” As we begin the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), I realize that we can’t reduce our work to “The Numbers.” However, across 51 camps this summer, Cornerstone fellows will impact the lives of over 30,000 campers. Now that is a nes. The diverse cultures of Jewish life we see in these camps prove that we are not just surviving, but we are surely thriving. May we all raise our distinct flags alongside each other, finding ourselves in the tapestry of the Jewish people.

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

The Jewish State

Why do people send their kids to camp? A theme that consistently emerges from market research and focus groups with parents is “resiliency.” People want their children to develop into productive self-sufficient members of society. A summer away in a safe, child-centered utopia gives children space to expand their sense of being. Beyond the watchful eyes of their parents they experience the freedom to own their own emergent identities.

So why do parents send their children to Jewish Camp? These parents want their children to grow into global Jewish citizens. Well as the saying goes, “Jews are just like everyone else, just more so.” They see that sending their child to a Jewish mission driven camp will aid their child in becoming even more resilient.

Today is Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.  A day in which we celebrate the modern State of Israel. There is no doubt that Israel is the model for how we as a nation strive for independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency.  This is just another way of saying national resiliency.

In recent years the Jewish community has spent a tremendous amount of money to ensure that every single child/emergent adult has an experience of Israel. This direct connection to this land, people, and culture of Israel can never be replaced. It is telling that in our recent study Camp Works: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp we found that someone who attends overnight Jewish Summer camp is 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel. Camp plays a critical role in developing the next generation of Jews in Diaspora. Where else can they experience autonomous Jewish space? Where else is the whole community run to the rhythm of Jewish time? Where else do we surround our youth with tremendous Israeli role models? Where else do our memories refract through the prism of layers and layers of communal experience? Well, the answer is Israel, but camp is still doing a great job.

Chag Sameach – Have a very special Yom HaAtzmaut.

– As seen FJC Blog

Shabbat is not in Heaven

I have many great memories of growing up at camp. For many of us camp alumni, a disproportional amount of these memories are of Shabbat. From a serene Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake, to an emotive song session in the dining hall, euphoric dancing on the basketball court, chocolate bobka at the Shabbat Oneg, resting on boys campus on Shabbat afternoon, and Havdalah that seemed to last to the middle of the night, Shabbat at camp was amazing and transcendent.

These might be my most precious of memories. As more time and distance pass from my experience of Shabbat at camp, it seems that I have not just placed these memories on a pedestal, but I have locked them in a glass cabinet. When I get together and reminisce with camp friends, I feel like a young Cosette from Les Miserables talking about Shabbat. As her song goes:

There is a room that’s full of toys
There are a hundred boys and girls
Nobody shouts or talks too loud
Not in my castle on a cloud (Les Miserables)

While I hold these memories dear, it saddens me to think of why we have limited our access to Shabbat outside of camp.  Are my options simply not appealing? Do they not feel authentic? Do I have some sort of fear of tarnishing my camp Shabbat memories? Whatever the reason, Shabbat is not supposed to be a “Castle on a Cloud”; rather it is supposed to be a “Palace in Time.” In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world. (The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man)

Shabbat at camp was special, but we do not need wooden cabins to experience the sacred architecture of Shabbat. While our memories might stem from our distant childhoods, one need not be a child—or a father or mother of one—to reconnect to Shabbat.

The work of the Foundation for Jewish Camp is important. We need to radically increase the number of our youth that are having these peak Jewish experiences. The lasting memories and relationships of Jewish camp are vital, but not sufficient. We must also find ways to empower alumni of these experiences to find ways to let these memories leak into the rest of their lives. Shabbat without the lake might not seem perfect, but it will be. We need to work on an integrated program of inspiring “peak and leak” experiences.

I am very proud that One Happy Camper, a program of FJC, is sponsoring Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, which is coming up this Friday, March 4th – 5th. Join in, unplug camp-style, and share your new memories.

– as seen on FJC 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.

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