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From Campbell’s to camp:  A conversation with Jeremy Fingerman

The Foundation for Jewish Camp has tapped Jeremy Fingerman of Englewood as its new chief executive officer. He succeeds Jerry Silverman, now CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Fingerman, a Harvard Business School graduate who formerly headed Campbell Soup Co.’s U.S. Soup Division and the management group for Manischewitz foods, moved to Englewood with his wife, Gail, in September 2005. Their 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter attend The Moriah School there.

With an annual budget of more than $22 million, FJC provides leadership, expertise, advocacy, and financial resources to approximately 150 non-profit Jewish overnight summer camps, 70,000 campers, and 10,000 counselors in North America. Philanthropists Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner founded it in 1998 to fill a need they saw for more and better identity-strengthening opportunities for Jewish children.

Fingerman, most recently the founder and managing principal of the consulting and investment advisory firm Clairmont Ventures, will be formally introduced at the foundation’s Leaders Assembly, March 14 to 15 in Jersey City.

In an early Sunday phone interview before going to morning services at Cong. Ahavath Torah, Fingerman talked with The Jewish Standard about the relevancy of his background and interests to his new position.

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Jeremy Fingerman of Englewood is the new CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Jewish Standard: Soup and summer camp seem like entirely different businesses. How has your past experience prepared you for the FJC?

Jeremy Fingerman: I hope my experience in branded packaged goods will bring a fresh perspective to the work of the FJC. My discipline, developed over 20-plus years in consumer businesses, is to address the needs of each constituency

The “consumers” in this case are the campers and their families. We must make sure the product offered meets the needs of today. The “retailers” are the counselors and staff that delivers those products and services, and we must make sure they are refreshed and renewed each season. The “distributors” are the boards, administrations, and movement heads, who need to decide on funding, capital expansion, and prioritization.

JS: Where did you go to camp as a kid?

JF: I started at Camp Blue Star in North Carolina for four summers, then to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for four summers. They were truly magical experiences. My parents both attended summer camp in the late ’20s/early ’30s and all of my siblings attended summer camp. My wife attended Camp Interlaken, the JCC camp in Wisconsin. We were in Eagle River during the same summers, but unfortunately didn’t meet until about 15 years later.

JS: Where do your children go to camp?

JF: They have gone to day camp at the JCC and Ma Tov. We are getting ready this year to look into sleep-away camp. We want to send them to the same camp, so I hope one of the advantages of this job will be to help us find one right fit for both of them.

JS: Do they need the Jewish camp experience as much as children who go to public school?

JF: Definitely. I expect that a camp’s immersive, 24/7 Jewish environment would both reinforce what they have learned and provide further joy to their Judaism, besides giving them the time of their lives! I also hope they — like me — will eventually gain the leadership skills that will serve them well both professionally and in their communal activities.

JS: How can parents best narrow the field of choices?

JF: I think you should look at issues of administration and safety. Find a director with a trusted reputation for getting to know and look after each and every child. You want to choose a camp that reinforces the hashkafa [Jewish outlook] you’re trying to establish in your own home, and one that can supply what your children are looking for.

After that, it’s a matter of what your own camp memories are. Sports, for example. I got to try everything, and then explore what I wanted to begin to specialize in after camp. Jewishly, you can apply the same principle to an extent. Most impactful for me was having role models among the staff who set an example in davening [prayer] and Torah learning.

JS: Does the FJC support camps that provide a more cultural than religious Jewish environment?

JF: Yes. But there has to be an Israel component and a Shabbat component in all Jewish camps, even as they cover the gamut of [different approaches to] Judaism.

JS: What other Jewish or civic endeavors are you involved in?

JF: I serve on the board of trustees of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood. I also serve as national vice chairman for the American Friends of Magen David Adom. And I have been active in the Englewood Business Forum, which is helping people expand their networks, develop new businesses, and provide guidance and support during this challenging economic period.

JS: Given the approximate cost of about $1,000 per week for an overnight camper, how is the economy affecting camps and potential campers’ families?

JF: I don’t yet know the specifics, but I’m sure that just as schools and shuls have been tightening their belts, camps are looking at their suppliers and vendors and negotiating harder to save money in non-program areas.

Looking at the demand side, last year the percentage of occupancy of beds among the 150 camps we support was in the high 90s. So, many parents are still sending their children to camp, but maybe for four weeks instead of eight. It could be that camps need to focus more on marketing themselves as a one-month option. This is still a meaningful period of time.

 
 

Niche camps hope to draw more young Jews

While most kids who attend Jewish overnight camps this summer will ship off to rural settings, a handful will find themselves in the concrete jungle of Manhattan engaged in what could be described as early career development.

The 92nd Street Y in Manhattan is recruiting campers for Passport NYC, a program offering its participants several New York-specific tracks involving three weeks of immersion in popular “specialties” such as film, fashion, culinary arts, the music industry, and baseball.

They will be able to work with industry professionals in New York who are leaders in their fields, from Greenmarket to the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league affiliate of the New York Mets.

Passport NYC is one of five camps across the United States that was started with seed money from the Specialty Camps Incubator run by the Foundation for Jewish Camp and funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation with a $10.1 million grant two years ago.

The incubator also has helped start Eden Village Camp, a pluralistic coed camp in upstate New York focused on Jewish environmentalism; Adamah Adventures in Georgia, which will take Jewish teens on “thrilling, awe-inspiring outdoor adventures”; the Six Points Sports Academy in North Carolina; and Ramah Outdoors in Colorado, which offers adventures for teens in the Rocky Mountains.

The hope is that the camps will fill niches and draw hundreds more young Jews to Jewish camps.

“What we are finding is that there are so many families for whom this is their goal,” said Yoni Stadlin, the founder of Eden Village Camp, which now has more than 100 campers enrolled.

“We know lots of parents who were saying, ‘My kid was not going to camp,’ but after hearing about this it was an automatic niche filled.”

Each of the camps has been given $1.1 million spread over five years to launch and become self-sufficient by attracting a critical mass of campers.

While the 92nd Street Y has run specialty camps for children aged 9 to 11, the new program is for older campers, most of whom will come to the city from other parts of the country. They will have the opportunity to come into contact with resources that may not be available elsewhere, says Alan Saltz, the Y’s director of camps and planning and development.

“They will really get a sense of what it is like in these industries,” Saltz said. “We want to give them a sense of what the behind-the-scenes is about.”

Campers will live in a residence at the Y for the three-week sessions, which cost about $3,900. The camps will receive training and technical support for the incubator, as well as a grant to help offset start-up costs during the first few years of operation.

For some, like Stadlin, the incubator made it possible to turn something of a fantasy into a reality.

After Stadlin earned his master’s degree in informal Jewish education from the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, he and several friends started bandying about the idea of starting a Jewish camp focused on farming. The conversations turned into visioning meetings, said Stadlin, who had worked at several Jewish camps and spent some time at the TEVA learning center, a Jewish environmental education center in New York.

“We got some pushback saying starting a camp was a lot harder than you think — sort of like when you convert to Judaism, you get told ‘no,’ “ he said. “But we found out this was a collective dream of many people.”

Word spread and, serendipitously, the UJA-Federation of New York heard about the rudimentary plans for Eden Village and offered Stadlin the 248-acre site of a camp that it had shut down — and to foot half the bill for renovations.

Creating the camp could not have been possible without the incubator, Stadlin said.

Each camp is provided a mentor who is an expert in starting and running camps similar to those being launched, and the five camps consult with each other about best practices for success.

“It just feels like we are making the camp with them,” Stadlin said.

The incubator is really teaching its fellows how to start and run a camp, says Adam Griff, who is launching Adamah Adventures with his wife, Bobbee.

“The FJC has done a great job of giving us a blueprint and templates for what to do first and second,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to struggle on our own.”

While the financial support affords the camps the luxury of not having to make ends meet in their first several years of existence, the incubator has set up processes for both starting and growing that each camp has to meet to attain long-term viability.

“Since we started in 2008, it has been, ‘Here is what you need to do in the first three months, four months, then what to do in fall and spring.’ It’s step-by-step guidance,” Griff said.

JTA

 
 

JDATA, new platform could spark Jewish data revolution

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Brandeis University and the Jim Joseph Foundation are hoping to map the Jewish education system with their ambitious JDATA project.

Brandeis University’s ambitious JDATA project has the power to transform the process of understanding and funding Jewish education. Or it could be an expensive bust.

Funded with $1.5 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation and developed over the past two years, JDATA essentially is a website that allows Jewish educational organizations — in this case day schools, part-time schools, camps, preschools and college campus organizations — to submit organizational information, from financial figures to school censuses. The idea is to create a comprehensive database about the field.

Brandeis is describing it as a gift to the field of Jewish education from Jim Joseph.

The key question: Will the field accept the gift and become active participants?

The platform, which was showcased last week at a learning session at the Brandeis House in New York, allows participating schools, researchers, and other users to sort the information by a number of factors — geography, size of school, types of students, and size of budget. It has been tested in 16 communities over the past year or so.

Supporters say the project has the potential to be transformational and ultimately could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in social research.

If it works out as planned, the Jewish community will have more than an up-to-date census of the Jewish educational system. Assuming schools provide financial information, the community finally will be able to put a price tag on Jewish education — something that could prove valuable in pitches to philanthropists and making informed communal funding decisions.

“In any other area of social public life, you have a department of education or department of health, or institutions that collect the basic information on what is going on in the sector,” said Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center at Brandeis and the Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at the suburban Boston University. “In our rainbow world of Jewish education, where everybody is a boat that floats or doesn’t on its own bottom, we don’t have the infrastructure to collect even the most basic, simple information about what goes on.”

Much of Saxe’s job is conducting studies about the Jewish community; he says the new platform will make a big difference.

“So much time and effort goes into collecting the basic numbers and into figuring out what is the basic information,” Saxe said. “We think it will increase the efficiency of work and the likelihood we can come to conclusions that have applicability.”

But there are pitfalls — namely, ensuring that the field is, in fact, participating in providing information, and then ensuring the trustworthiness of the data. Simply, if the data aren’t complete or accurate, then the project is worthless.

Brandeis isn’t blind to the issue.

Amy Sales, the associate director of the Cohen Center who is overseeing JDATA, says it is a significant concern. That’s why funders need to press their grantees to participate in the program, she said.

“This is absolutely critical and part of the new thinking as we go back now to places who are already using it,” Sales said.

For example, she said, the Foundation for Jewish Camp has been a driving force behind the effort and presses camps to participate. The camps have been trained in a culture of providing data because the FJC requires it, according to Sales. The trick, she said, will be changing the culture in other sectors.

Sales added that the FJC and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, an umbrella organization for Jewish day schools, are contemplating imposing sanctions on institutions that fail to comply. In San Francisco, she said, preliminary talks are under way with major funders about joining together to create a policy under which foundations would not give funds to schools that do not participate.

The JDATA team also is working on the accuracy component for the project, but for now it will rely on the honesty of organizations and a hands-on approach.

In the short term, Sales said, “We double-check all of the data. We run the data and look for improbable values. If a school that has 100 children but then claims it has 500 in fifth grade, something is wrong. We get on the phone and we call them.”

JTA

This article was adapted from JTA’s philanthropy blog, Fundermentalist.com.

 
 

It’s official: Jewish camp strengthens Jewish identity

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish camp alumni — and their parents — have long known that those halcyon weeks spent at Jewish summer camp don’t just cement lifelong friendships, they strengthen Jewish identity.

Now they have it in writing.

A new study on the long-term impact of Jewish overnight camp concludes that those who have attended camp are more Jewishly engaged as adults, according to 13 key variables, than those who did not go to camp.

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According to a new report, these happy kids at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires are more likely to be Jewishly engaged as adults than their friends who didn’t go to Jewish camp. Judah S. Harris/Foundation for Jewish Camp

“We finally have a tool that proves Jewish camp works, that it helps create a more vibrant Jewish future,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which advocates for more than 155 Jewish nonprofit camps in North America and sponsored the study.

“Camp Works: The long-term impact of Jewish overnight camp” used data from 26 national studies of adult Jewish engagement, including the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, to produce the first statistical look at the effect of Jewish camping on individual as well as communal Jewish identity.

The report shows the most pronounced increase in Jewish engagement in four areas not typically associated with non-Orthodox Jewish behavior. Three of them have to do with Jewish communal identity: Camp alumni are 55 percent more likely than Jewish adults who did not attend camp to say they are “very emotionally attached to Israel”; they are 45 percent more likely to attend synagogue at least once a month; and 30 percent more of them donate to Jewish federations.

This is significant, says lead researcher Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, because those three behaviors indicate a certain level of Jewish communal commitment, and it is precisely that communal identification that many Jewish experts fear is most at risk.

“Where camp has had its strongest effect has to do with its creation of an intense, temporary Jewish community,” said Cohen.

That communal experience imprints on the individual, he surmised, leading to a greater propensity to view one’s self within a larger Jewish social network in adulthood.

The other 10 areas of investigation also revealed increased Jewish engagement among camp alumni, from a 37 percent increase in those who “always/usually” light Shabbat candles to a 5 percent increase in the number of those who “always/usually” light Chanukah candles. These 10 areas are related to an individual sense of Jewish identity.

Camp’s impact is more pronounced among non-Orthodox Jews under 49 than their elders, the report notes.

More than 70,000 children and teens attended Jewish overnight camp in 2010.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Summertime … and the camping is funded

_JStandardLocal | World
Published: 24 February 2012
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Campers at Camp Ramah in Nyack, N.Y., get ready to cool down in the lake during a hot summer day. Nir Landau/Foundation for Jewish Camp

NEW YORK – Bills or bug juice?

With the economic recovery still struggling to take hold, many American Jewish families are finding they face a difficult question as deadlines for summer camp enrollment approach: Can they pay their bills and still send their kids to Jewish overnight camp?

“It’s a difficult decision,” said Shelly Zemelman, a school psychologist in Cleveland with four children. Her 16-year-old daughter, Batya, has spent four summers at Camp Stone, a modern Orthodox camp in Sugar Grove, Pa., that charges $3,500 for a four-week session. Other Jewish camps charge as much as $1,500 per week.

“It’s not a necessity like school — it’s a luxury,” Zemelman said. “If we had to send all four kids at the same time, I don’t think we could have done it.”

She said she knows several families who are considering dropping camp; one family made it work by alternating the years their children attend camp.

Jewish summer camp is not for the faint of wallet. With new studies suggesting that the camp experience is a key component in boosting the Jewish identity of American Jews, however, it should not be expendable, say champions of camping.

A 2011 study, “Camp Works: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Camp,” paid for by the Foundation for Jewish Camp and conducted by Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira Sheskin, and Berna Torr, found that Jewish campers were much more likely to feel attachment to Israel, attend synagogue at least monthly, light Shabbat candles, and donate to a Jewish federation than those who had not gone to Jewish summer camp. The study, which controlled for past Jewish experience, also found that camp attendance was correlated with moderate increases in the size of one’s circle of Jewish friends, and the importance one ascribes to Jewish identity.

The study found that 70,000 children attended Jewish overnight camp in 2010.

For many parents, the answer to the dilemma is in financial aid. Camp industry insiders say applications for financial aid have risen sharply since the economic crisis hit in 2008.

“Absolutely there’s been an increase in request for financial aid,” Jeremy Fingerman, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), told JTA. “There are current campers who have fallen on hard times and families that want to join camp for the first time, but can’t make it an affordable choice for them.”

The 150 nonprofit camps in the FJC’s network have reported increasing scholarship allocations by 25 percent to 100 percent — often in addition to support offered by local foundations, federations, or synagogues.

Yehuda Rothner, director of Camp Stone, said that requests for financial aid at his camp have gone up by 10 percent, but that the amount requested has gone up significantly more. “People are asking for more money,” he said.

Over the last five years, the camp has more than doubled its yearly allocation for scholarships, from $100,000 to $220,000. There also has been a slight increase in “bad debt,” in which the camp makes accommodation for families who find themselves unable to pay after making the first payment.

Ramah, the Conservative movement’s camping wing with eight overnight camps and three day camps, has increased scholarship giving to $4.3 million in 2011 from $3 million in 2008, according to Amy Cooper, Ramah’s national director. The Ramah scholarships, which include funds raised by local boards, synagogues, federations, and such foundations as the FJC, have benefited 500 families among the 6,500 attending Ramah camps each summer. Camps Ramah long have been considered a key to creating a committed Jewish core, and many of the movement’s rabbinic and lay leaders have come out of the Ramah experience.

Not all aid is doled out according to financial need. Over the last four years, the FJC says its Happy Camper program has provided 30,000 financially blind grants of up to $1,000 to entice first-time campers.

“There are some families for whom the money is critical to deciding to go to Jewish camp,” Cooper said. “Our commitment is that every child who wants to go to Jewish camp can.”

Despite the weak economy, camp enrollment has continued to climb. The 150 nonprofit camps in FJC’s network have grown by 4 percent to 5 percent over the last four years. Fingerman attributed the increase in part to a drop-off in enrollment at for-profit Jewish camps, which tend to cost more.

Many credit the mix of scholarships and grants for boosting enrollment. Rothner said another factor may be at play: parents who are sending their children to Jewish camp instead of the Jewish day schools, which cost more.

“As day school prices increase, it is forcing a difficult situation down parent’s throats, and they’re having to make those decisions,” Rothner said.

Some camp administrators say the recession has not had much of an impact on enrollment because their constituency is mostly high-income families.

Howard Salzberg, who has co-owned the for-profit Camp Modin in Maine for the last 32 years, said that enrollment at the camp — which costs $6,300 per four-week session — has not suffered at all. “People forgo other things before they won’t send their kids to camp,” he said.

For the campers themselves, how their parents pay for camp is easily forgotten once they are there. “I’ve never made friends like that — they were the people who have made the most impact on my life,” Batya Zemelman said.

Asked if she knew anyone who had trouble affording camp, she paused for a moment to reflect. “There were a few,” she said finallyt, “but there were scholarships available.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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