July 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Foundation for Jewish Camp: Serving Parents and Kids Everywhere

Jewish camp has long been associated with the North American Jewish community. Starting as a place to get fresh air and flee the tenements in the city in the 40s and 50s, Jewish camp has become a summer ritual for 70,000 campers annually. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish children and young adults have spent the lazy, hazy days of summer swimming, making pottery and celebrating Shabbat at camp. Campers and staff alike depart each summer with lifelong friendships, a commitment to Jewish community and unforgettable memories.

“How can we talk about Jewish identity and ignore Jewish summer camps?” asked Elisa Spungen Bildner a number of years ago. As Wexner Heritage Foundation fellows and philanthropists, Elisa and her husband, Robert, studied the bigger picture of Jewish life in North America through Wexner’s leadership program for Jewish volunteers. They discovered a great need for more and better informal education opportunities for Jewish children, specifically overnight camp. Camps were not high on the agenda of the Jewish community and, as a result, suffered from lack of attention and funding. They determined that a generation of children was missing out on experiences that could profoundly shape their identity.

Inspired by this opportunity, in 1998 the couple created the Foundation for Jewish Camping. They provided seed money to launch a public foundation dedicated solely to the Jewish overnight camp movement—now, the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

The mission of the Foundation for Jewish Camp is to galvanize the field of Jewish overnight camp and significantly increase the number of children participating in those transformative summers at Jewish camp, assuring a vibrant North American Jewish community. Foundation supporters are more than convinced that summers at Jewish overnight camp turn Jewish youth into spirited and engaged Jewish adults, laying the groundwork for strong Jewish communities.

FJC works with camps from all streams of Jewish belief and practice to promote excellence in their management and programs, and with communities to increase awareness and promote enrollment. FJC works aggressively to highlight the value and importance of the nonprofit Jewish camp experience to parents, leaders and communities. In conjunction with the efforts of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and its Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, the field of Jewish camp now has a place on the communal philanthropic agenda.

The Foundation is also addressing affordability by engaging in a feasibility study measuring the interest in and viability of a more accessible camp model. They are seeking to create links to schools, communities and synagogues to share educational best practices and drive enrollment growth. And they are creating innovative programming in cutting-edge educational development to enhance Jewish, Israel and general program content. Jewish values, culture and traditions are woven into the fabric of camp activities, helping campers to connect to their own identity and the larger Jewish community. Spirited and dynamic staff members use experiential learning to reveal what makes Jewish religion and culture so unique in today’s world. At camp, Jewish and Israeli culture is celebrated through song, food, art and dance. Jewish values, connection to Israel and the culture of Judaism are entwined with basketball, arts and crafts and swimming—creating a community of campers who are proud to be Jewish. There are Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative camps. Some camps are focused on Zionism and the role of Israel in Jewish life. Other camps are non-denominational, and focus on providing positive Jewish identity-building experiences through Jewish culture. Whether they’re telling stories in their bunks, learning about the environment or playing tennis, campers explore what Judaism means to them in a safe, nurturing and fun environment.

The impact of Jewish camp is immediate—campers return home connected to a community and friends that will last them a lifetime. And it doesn’t stop there. Children with pivotal Jewish camp experiences are more likely to become adults who value their Jewish heritage, support Jewish causes and take on leadership roles in their communities.

Because of the variety of traditional and specialty overnight camps that accommodate special needs and interests, catering to each family’s needs, the Foundation offers a “Shadchan Service” called the Find a Camp tool to help families search for the perfect camp and links them to each camp’s website for more detailed information. Learn more at http://www.jewishcamp.org/find-camp-2.

If your child has never been to camp, FJC’s One Happy Camper program offers need-blind grants of $1000 to first-time campers. Visit http://www.jewishcamp.org and click on the One Happy Camper icon to learn more.

Through BunkConnect, first-time campers of all Jewish backgrounds (including Jewish day school students) can choose from a variety of high-quality summer experiences. The program is specifically designed for families for whom Jewish camp might not be financially feasible, including families with moderate incomes.

Over 35 camps across the Northeast, New England and Mid-Atlantic regions are participating in BunkConnect 2014, representing all the major Jewish movements and denominations, Zionist, JCC, independent and specialty camps. In this pilot year, BunkConnect is open to families living in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and the Washington, DC area.

BunkConnect s funded by the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Leader Family Foundation, the Michael and Andrea Leven Family Foundation and the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund.

To contact the FJC and learn more email: [email protected].

Visit: http://www.jewishcamp.org/

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