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Meet the Bloom Grant Winners

By Federation Innovation, INNOVATION, PHILANTHROPY

Big Ideas Are Taking Root
Federation’s second round of Bloom Innovation seed grants have now been awarded to an exciting and diverse group of Jewish social change makers and organizations. We’re investing in innovation for our community because it brings new energy and new people to our collective enterprise of creating a thriving, relevant and dynamic Jewish Atlanta. “These Bloom grants will help seed and support nonprofits in our innovation ecosystem who are taking risks and trying new things in a collaborative manner, so they can get off the ground and move more quickly to serving the growing needs of our community,” says Jori Mendel, V.P. of Innovation. “We’re excited to provide strategic support, mentorship and community to support these great new ideas that are springing up from existing agencies and organizations, community leaders, start-ups, synagogues and nonprofits, and we’re hopeful that many will succeed and move to scale.” See who the winners are and how they’re committed to making Jewish Atlanta bloom!

  • AgeWell | Providing operational support for evaluation software that promotes early detection of risk factors in aging adults. This is a collaboration between the JF&CS, Jewish Home Life Communities & MJCCA.
  • Birthday Celebrations | Supporting in-person birthday visits and conversations for Holocaust survivors to reduce social isolation and increase connection. This is a collaboration between the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund (HSSF) and JF&CS.
  • MLK Shabbat Civic Dinners | In collaboration with Repair the World, OneTable, MLK Center & AJC Access, and many other young adult organizations in our community, 10 MLK Shabbat dinners will bring Jewish values to the table for a civil rights discussion among young adults who are passionate about civic engagement through a Jewish lens. Shabbat dinners will engage 100 young professionals in diverse geographic areas.
  • Consortium of ATL Jewish Day Schools | A joint marketing project raising awareness of day school offerings and their diversity among Greater ATL. This is a collaboration between seven Jewish day schools: Atlanta Jewish Academy, Chaya Mushka Children’s House, The Davis Academy, The Epstein School, Temima, Torah Day School of Atlanta and The Weber School.
  • Door L’ Door | Creating a network of door openers who offer a radically warm welcome to ATL newcomers, through intimate one-on-one coffee dates to learn about their interests and connect them to the Jewish community. The goal is to launch in 2 test neighborhoods.
  • Emory Hillel Innovation Fund | To support Emory students to create innovative programs & spaces on the Emory campus to grow Jewish student engagement.
  • Grandparents Learning Together (GLT) In collaboration with local rabbis and Jewish educators and learning organizations, GLT will create a4-part learning curriculum to celebrate and explore grandparents’ essential family roles through biblical, rabbinic and other Jewish resources.
  • Interfaith Family Meetups | Convenes two-hour meetups with Jewish interfaith couples in their 20s and 30’s, to provide a safe space to connect and discuss joys and challenges. Three meetups are planned, taking place in geographically diverse radically welcoming locations.

Everything We Need is in the Passover Story

By Eric's Blog

Earlier in March, just before the COVID-19 crisis became more intense in Georgia, I was at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with one of our community’s wise elders, Jarvin Levinson. Looking back, it was an eerie evening with the seats half full. The music seemed to herald the dark period that has now arrived.

Our world has been transformed. Grateful as I am to reconnect with the basics of a slower pace, self-care, and more time with family, my days are filled with worry about how to meet human needs and the financial health of our institutions.

Yet like any personal crisis I have lived through, or the Jewish people has lived through, when we get to the other side things will be different. I hope we will refocus on the essentials that make our people unique: the obligation to be responsible for each other, the centrality of Jewish education, and all the beautiful communal ways we gather to play and pray.

I am overwhelmed by the generosity that is pouring into our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. More than $2.5M has been raised from hundreds of donors! Grants are already going out to help our community handle food insecurity, social isolation, job loss, the shortage of protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, and more.

As we welcome Passover, let’s proudly tell the story of Jewish resilience and optimism. Our master story of redemption and survival despite suffering, plagues, and slavery, is everything we need right now.

All of Israel Are Responsible for Each Other

By Eric's Blog

How proud am I of how our Jewish community has pulled together to address the disruptions and challenges of the COVID-9 crisis? 

Let me count the ways! 

Unlike the old joke about the classic Jewish telegram:“Start worrying. Details to follow,” our collective response to COVID-19 actually started two weeks ago as Jewish Atlanta’s agencies, schools, and synagogues shared contingency plans for social distancing and remote working and learning. By the time most of us made the decision to cancel events and have our professionals work remotely, we were already on the same page. That’s what it means to be an ecosystem! 

The “new normal” still feels strange, but we’re on surer footing every day. Federation’s leadership team meets daily via Zoom calls to troubleshoot and review priorities.

We’ve sent all our core partners a financial needs assessment survey. It asks them to list their most urgent needs and is helping uunderstand their financial pain points  lost revenue due to cancellation of programs, meeting payrollpopulations at risk, staff layoffs, and more.The survey is giving us a real-time lens into the financial impact of COVID-19 in our community.

I’m proud that nearly overnight, we crowd-sourced a comprehensive online list of community resources:

Just last week, with the full support of our community partners and approval by the Federation board, we launched theCOVID-19 Emergency Response Fundto help our organizations stay operational during this time, and prepare for the future, too. 

Our Federation professionals are demonstrating a dedication and a work ethic that is incredible!  They’ve pivoted on a dime to focus on the challenges of this moment, changing course to reflect new priorities. 

With schools closed, thousands of parents are now working from home while also caring for children. It’s a huge disruption. So, I’m beyond proud of PJ Library Atlanta, which has gone way beyond books to become a community builder. PJ Library is reaching out to parents with a series of “Parenting Under Quarantine” virtual focus groups to gather information and assess programming parents need. They’re providing live story times in English, Spanish, and Russian as well as yoga classes and cooking demosdaily via Facebook Live

From ITP to OTP this community has rallied to create online Jewish learning opportunities, daily guided meditation, engaging programming for children of all ages, and a resource bank for individuals struggling with feelings of isolation and anxiety. By sharing information on social media we’re amplifying the community’s creative online offerings which have mushroomed to include virtual minyans, workshops, volunteer opportunities, live storytime, and virtual support groups.

We’re leveraging the Microsoft Teams platform to help our ecosystem organizations share discoveries and challenges in real time. It won’t replace communications like FederationFive, but anything tailored to organizational needs, like information from the Small Business Administration on loans, for example, or details on our new Emergency Response Fund, will now come through Teams.

Social distancing is painful, and the emotional toll of isolation is only beginning to be felt. We must hold fast to our values and our mission to put human needs firstand they are growing, day by day. Please help by givinggenerously to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

As Passover draws near in a time of literal plague, let the words: Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all of Israel are responsible for each other, be on our lips. This remarkable community was built on generosity, dreams, volunteerism, optimism and vision. Those qualities have never failed us. Together,I know we will come through this and will continue to proudly push Jewish life forward.

Inspired by Rwanda

By Eric's Blog

I saw many powerful things that underscore the progress and possibilities happening in Rwanda, but three insights stay with me forever. All three drive me to think about the unique role Jews can play in addressing social justice on a global scale, and the impact Israel has already had as a partner committed to helping Rwanda transform its future.

1. As Jews, it is impossible to ignore the legacy of genocide that binds us to this land. The echoes of the Rwandan genocide are both recent and concrete – in memorials, in visits to the Rweru Reconciliation Village, and in the testimony of everyday Rwandans. We feel echoes of the Holocaust in this place where hatred and racial supremacy drove a campaign of mass murder over the course of 100 days in 1994. The genocide was planned and executed by extremist elements of Rwanda’s majority Hutu population. They demonized the minority Tutsis as “cockroaches,” and brainwashed the Hutu to despise them. With nowhere to run, Tutsis were literally slaughtered in place. Every Rwandan family has been touched by the conflict and yet, reconciliation between the tribes has happened. Twenty-five years later, there is healing and prosperity in this land which now has the highest GDP in Africa. Rwanda teaches us transformation is possible through the redemptive power of forgiveness and good leadership.

2. Just as Israel transformed itself from a developing nation to a world leader in innovation, Rwanda is truly on its way to becoming a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy by educating its people, adopting new agricultural technologies and creating renewable energy.

Rwandans have literally taken what we Jews know, from the Israeli kibbutz and Jewish camping, to the rehabilitation and resettlement of exiles and orphans in Israel. I saw it at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a place modeled on Israel’s Yemin Orde, that houses orphaned and vulnerable youth and help them reach their potential. Five post-college Jewish Fellows currently volunteer for a year at ASYV through the Global Jewish Service Corps.  I was incredibly inspired by their commitment to immersive global service.

One young volunteer told me how her experience in Rwanda now defines her. “I love that the Jewish community is investing in my Jewish identity, but now I  know with certainty that working in the developing world will be my life’s work. This expresses who I am as a Jew.”

It was no surprise to me to learn that ASYV was created by a South African Jewish woman, Anne Heyman, z”l, who moved to the US at age 15 and became active in Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement. Anne spent a year in Israel with Young Judaea and it was foundational to her identity. After college, and many years practicing law, Anne set out to improve the world on several fronts. ASYV is just one part of her legacy as a social entrepreneur. It is a remarkable place of healing and hope.

3.  I deeply believe that immersive Jewish global experiences, such as those I saw in Rwanda, are more than identity building, they are antidotes to antisemitism. I was thrilled to be on the trip with the heads of Moishe House, Repair the World, Birthright Israel,, (which grows impact through giving inspired by Jewish values), plus journalists, and policy makers from around the world. Being together led to rich conversations and new ideas for collaboration. Just as young Israelis do this kind of service work after completing army service, I had the idea that our organizations could partner to bring young Jews from across the Diaspora together in service to the world. These conversations were like pieces of a puzzle that we’ll continue to work on at home.

The result, I hope, will be a new way for Jewish world service that expresses our highest values and brings our people together in service to humanity.

My Jewish Journey to Rwanda

By Eric's Blog

Today is my birthday, and I’ve received an incredible gift. In about two weeks I leave for a very special invitation-only trip to Rwanda curated for Jewish leaders, educators and influencers, spearheaded by OLAM — a collaborative platform of 53 Jewish and Israeli organizations committed to engaging the Jewish world in global service and international development.

Why Rwanda? Because surprisingly, Rwanda is a place where Jewish organizations are deeply engaged in driving social change and social justice in agriculture and international development. And because Rwanda is linked to the Jewish people through a joint history of genocide and growth. Israel has just established an embassy in Kigali, the capital, plus, the city boasts a Genocide Memorial, and also a new Chabad center that will include the nation’s first synagogue served by the country’s first permanent rabbi.

Rwanda is one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, yet it has a rapidly growing Jewish community of men and women assisting with poverty relief, health care and economic development. Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, for example, a Rwandan-based organization founded by an American Jew who was inspired by the Israeli youth village model. It works with vulnerable and orphaned children, drawing inspiration from how Israel helped Jewish orphans after the Holocaust.

The trip excites me because it’s all about shared values and the potential of the Jewish people to address urgent global challenges.  I’ll spend five days in “The Land of 1000 Hills,” seeing the work of Jewish organizations and individuals who are supporting vulnerable communities. Along with Israelis and other American and British Jews, I hope to learn about some of the pressing issues facing the developing world and think deeply about our Jewish responsibilities to the wider world.

Rwanda is a beautiful and challenging nation and I’m beyond excited to travel there.  I’m hoping to see first-hand, some prime case studies that model Jewish engagement in global service, international development, and philanthropy. Watch my Facebook page for updates and insights from the trip!

An Even Brighter Light

By Eric's Blog

Here’s what makes my fire burn — it’s when many flames in our community come together and, like the shamash candle, become an amplifying torch.

A great example is how Jewish Family & Career Services joined with Jewish Homelife, the MJCCA, and Federation to create AgeWell Atlanta.  This is a brilliant partnership that leverages the expertise of each organization to help our community’s older adults live their best lives. AgeWell Atlanta streamlines access to the incredible services and resources that already exist for older adults, then adds the human touch of a Concierge who can guide users to referrals and support services.

In a time when antisemitic incidents are on the rise, another big light is how the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association have come together to strategize about combatting antisemitism and the growing Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement. We’ve never needed their collective wisdom more.

Another light: Did you know that our Atlanta Jewish ecosystem consists of more than 90 schools, synagogues, agencies and organizations? The ecosystem now meets quarterly to talk in depth about mutual concerns, from how to make our community more welcoming, and ways to improve customer service, to opportunities for collaboration.

It thrills me to see the community coming together to elevate the work we are all doing. It shows that in spite of our diversity and geographic sprawl, we are one community working together to make this the best Jewish community in the world.

So Many Blessings

By Eric's Blog

Gratitude. It’s an attitude and a practice that underpins so much of what we do and believe as Jews. It’s why I love the rabbinic teaching about saying 100 blessings a day! The rabbis looked at Deuteronomy 10:12, which says, “Now, Israel, what does your God, ask of you? To walk in God’s ways, and to serve God.” The Talmud explains that the word mah (what) can be read as me’ah, meaning 100, suggesting that God wants us to recite (at least) 100 brachot (blessings) every day.

It’s the ultimate in mindfulness!

That’s the thought I had earlier this month when I was in Israel on our Men’s Journey. We had an evening program that wrapped up late. Many groups of guys on tour would either go to bed or go drinking afterward. But not our Federation men. Though I went back to the hotel, these guys said, “Let’s go to the Kotel!” And so they did, walking over in the darkness and expressing their gratitude for the friendships this trip had created, for the joy of being in Israel together, and for the privilege of having this homeland. So many blessings!

I love the ways Jewish tradition requires us to stop and think about all that we have, acknowledge all the ways we’re blessed and how we’re commanded share what we have. These mitzvot are not at all abstract, they’re rooted in real life and demonstrate that Jewish giving goes beyond charity (from the Latin caritas, or love), it is tzedek, justice.

There’s the mitzvah of Pe’ah, leaving the crops in corners of our fields for to the poor. We’re commanded, “You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit…you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” And in the spirit of radical justice, the rabbis actually say that not leaving the corners of the fields for the poor is theft!

There are laws about how we treat animals, how we slaughter animals, and how we eat them. All express reverence for G-d’s creations, along with temperance about how we consume them.

There’s the shmitah year — the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, mandated for the Land of Israel. We let the earth lie fallow, giving it a rest, with no plowing, pruning or harvesting allowed. Another agricultural mitzvah with much to teach mankind about stewarding a warming earth.

And finally, there’s Shabbat itself.  There’s no day I long for more. My family knows that my weeknights are ridiculous, and that most evenings I am out in our community. Without Shabbat to refocus me, bind me to what matters, and connect me to all my blessings, I could not do this work I that I love.

Thanksgiving is just days away. You may know that this uniquely American holiday, so reminiscent of Shabbat, has roots in Jewish text.  In 1620, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, compared the pilgrims’ flight from persecution in England to the Jews’ fleeing Pharoah. The Pilgrims recited psalm 107 from the Hebrew bible, a song of thanksgiving to G-d. In their gratitude they identified with us.

Have a wonderful holiday!

SHOCK, GRIEF & PRIDE: Pittsburgh One Year Later

By Eric's Blog

After four trips to Pittsburgh since the massacre at Tree of Life, I am emerging from a year of shock and grief with a firm conviction that we must double down on Jewish identity and Jewish pride. This is our greatest weapon against antisemitism and against those who seek to threaten and intimidate us.

Pittsburgh is my hometown. I knew some of the community members who were murdered, and I have been holding on tightly to my memories of them in life. Each pilgrimage I made to Pittsburgh this past year began with emotions centered around personal and collective loss, but each time I emerged with a deeper appreciation of Jewish resilience.

I first went to Pittsburgh immediately after the attack, together with Mark Silberman, our Federation board chair. Together with other community representatives, and with the crime scene tape still surrounding the synagogue, we could visualize the horror and terror that unfolded that Shabbat morning. At that time, we bore witness to the agony and somber solidarity of a community in mourning. The shock was still raw.

As time passed and I traveled back to Pittsburgh, this time in December with my brother Marvin to visit our family, my healing journey began. We celebrated life, even as death and tragedy hovered.

Then, in May, I returned to Pittsburgh with civic and religious leaders on the 23rd annual Atlanta LINK trip to learn about change from other cities. Pittsburgh leaders told us the relationships they had built before the massacre is what allowed them to respond so quickly, and with such an outpouring of love and support.

I took that as a mandate to do the same in Atlanta and I believe we really are making progress building strong relationships both within and beyond our Jewish ecosystem.

As we approached this somber anniversary, Marvin and I went home again, this time with Sasha, my teenage daughter. It was the most intense and gratifying of the visits.

Over some of Pittsburgh’s famous Mineos Pizza, we spent time with Jeff Finkelstein, the CEO of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation. Jeff was among the local leaders who shepherded that community through an unspeakable tragedy. They are moving forward, with heavy and wounded hearts, but the momentum is unmistakable.

On the Sunday morning before Yom Kippur, Marvin, Sasha and I set out for the cemetery where my parents, grandparents, sister, and other immediate family members are buried. We then decided to visit the tiny Jewish cemetery belonging to Poale Zedeck, one of Pittsburgh’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, located in an old mill town nearby. Another set of grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives are buried there. No Jews have lived in this area for years. The aged cemetery, so stark behind barbed wire, shows many signs of neglect.

We walked and walked, and searched every inch, but could not find their gravestones. And then we found one — overturned, neglected, bearing the name Mildred Erbstein, my great aunt. The headstones of my grandparents, Ruth and Louis Robbins, were also overturned.

From the cemetery, we hurried over to Heinz Field for a Steelers game. The so-called “Terrible Towel,” a symbol of the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh, was pink for breast cancer awareness. The Terrible Towel was the invention of Myron Cope, Pittsburgh’s legendary Jewish radio sportscaster. It filled me with pride and nostalgia to be part of “Steeler Nation” and lose myself in the sense of belonging that permeated the arena.

Marvin, Sasha and I all felt it, all the more so since the Tree of Life was never too far from our thoughts. Win or lose — and we lost — it just didn’t matter. And who can forget that iconic newspaper headline, in Hebrew, with the opening verse of the Kaddish. All year I have wrestled with how to reconcile my personal history and Pittsburgh’s renowned hometown spirit with the anguish and stain of violent antisemitism — a stain that now marks my hometown and our global Jewish family.

I know that Jewish Pittsburgh will never be the same. There is a new sense of vigilance, but even at Tree of Life, there are beautiful signs of healing. The plywood covering the windows of the shul have come down. There is now an installation that curates art works sent in solidarity.

When I was growing up in the 1970s—when I was Sasha’s age—the banners outside Tree of Life read: SAVE SOVIET JEWRY. Yes, we saved Soviet Jews. Do we now pivot to asking how can we secure ourselves?

I tried to understand this journey through Sasha’s eyes. In just one day, she traveled to a crumbling old cemetery filled with Jews who share her DNA and also stood before a synagogue where hate inspired a murderer to steal eleven lives, a building now adorned with images sent by students her age demanding gun control. She sat in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of strangers, all waving pink towels, yet felt like she was part of a larger community.

Out of this year of introspection and chesbon nefesh, the only clear answer that has emerged from a senseless tragedy is that we need to pay much more attention to Jewish identity and pride. How else can we counter hate? The work we do to build and strengthen our community is holy, it is relevant, and it is more important than I ever before. We must bind ourselves more tightly to each other, from Pittsburgh to Paris, whether we are secular or religious, and we must continue to build bridges with our brothers and sisters who have experienced similar tragedy at churches, mosques and other community institutions.

As the famous Israeli poem begins, every person has a name. When the anniversary arrives, I will be in Jerusalem and I will say Kaddish for Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthanl, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.

I hope for all of us use the one-year marker to heal, connect and strengthen our bonds to our shared and global Jewish family.

We must continue to fine-tune our community security strategies, improve our vigilance, and continue to tighten our collaboration with local, state and federal authorities, but we cannot – we must not – succumb to fear and retreat into a bunker mentality.

Pride has long been at the center of the Jewish renaissance that marks this era of Jewish history; and pride must remain at the very core of who we are as a community.

Eric Robbins is President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Atlanta. He grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. These views are his own.d

S’lach-li – Forgive Me

By Eric's Blog

To be a leader means seeking the truth and speaking the truth. It means letting go of old pieties and embracing new realities. To be a leader means dialing down the voices that say “no, we can’t” and building a consensus to move ahead fearlessly.

In the process of leading Atlanta to become a thriving and connected 21st century Jewish community, I am guilty of all of these behaviors. I know that in my enthusiasm to build a Jewish future that will undoubtedly look and feel very different from what we know, I have upset some people. And for that I seek forgiveness.

S’lach-li, forgive me, but Jewish America is in the midst of a massive generational shift in identity and practice. Pride in Jewish identity and Jewish spirituality is growing, but young Jews are increasingly likely to say that they have “no religion,” and that they feel little connection to the organized community.

I want everyone, across the entire lifespan, to be thrilled by Jewish life and to say that their identity gives meaning to life and shapes their actions.  So, I feel driven to create new pathways to engagement that launch Jewish journeys and spark Jewish possibilities. It feels urgent to me to broaden the ways we engage with Jews and their loved ones.

As this community tries out new ideas and innovations, I am aware that some people will experience a deep sense of loss. But we cannot let our collective anxiety paralyze or demoralize us.

Great things are happening in Jewish Atlanta!

Already we are becoming a community where agencies and individuals are collaborating and partnering to actualize bold ideas that benefit everyone. We are gathering in new ways and in new places. We are building a culture of innovation that invests in the creativity of changemakers and makes room to learn from failure. We are developing a relationship with Israel that is centered on its people, not its politics.

If I haven’t listened enough, if I haven’t been empathetic enough, forgive me. If I haven’t been fearless enough, I’ll admit, sometimes it’s easier to avoid delicate issues because of their divisiveness. Yes, I have big dreams. Yes, I am impatient. But in my soul, I am a servant of this wonderful Jewish community that opened its arms to me more than 45 years ago. And everything I do comes from a place of love.

Shanah tovah!

It’s time for Jewish Family Camp!

By Eric's Blog

American Jews have created, perfected, and scaled the institution of overnight summer camp.
Now it’s time for Jewish Family Camp!
By Rabbi Miriam Burg, Jeremy J. Fingerman and Eric M. Robbins
This article originally ran in eJewish Philanthropy on September 5, 2019.

It was a Jewish trifecta when three passionate advocates for Jewish camp met on the shores of Lake Waloon this August to visit Camp Michigania, the 56-year-old family camp for alumni of University of Michigan. We were excited to see this legendary camp, explicitly designed and staffed for families, and considered the gold standard for family camp programing.

Camp Michigania isn’t fancy, yet it is deeply beloved. The cabins are basic, and all meals are held in a communal dining hall.  A mix of traditional sports, arts, fitness, and discussion forums keep adults and kids of all ages busy all day – or not!  You can opt out of events and just relax. We met families who’ve been attending for 30 years or more. We saw cars in the parking lot bearing Gania4 bumper stickers — which in Michigania-speak means, “We’re a 4th Week Family” in Camp Michigania’s 11-week summer season. And we never saw a cell phone – only one building on campus has wi-fi.

While the three of us have different personal camp experiences, we’re absolutely on the same page about the immersive benefits of Jewish overnight camp. We know there is tremendous power in stepping away from daily life and returning year after year to the same place at the same time. So, we’ve informally joined forces to be advocates and evangelists for a new model of Jewish community-building and a serious communal investment in creating week-long Jewish overnight camps for families.

Rabbi Miriam Burg, whose family has attended Camp Michigania for 37 consecutive summers, is an educator and a long-time advocate for Jewish family camp. She recently co-created the Capital Camps Institute for Leadership and Learning to skill-up Jewish camp counselors. Her current priority is building and expanding Kibbutz Camp, as a new model for Jewish overnight camps for families.

Jeremy Fingerman is CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). He spent formative summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and for the last ten years of his professional life has expanded opportunities across North America for more kids to experience Jewish camp – both day and overnight — including new specialty camps.  FJC has identified family camp as an important growth element of its strategic plan.

Eric Robbins is President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Jewish Atlanta and the former director of Camp Twin Lakes, a camp for children with serious illnesses and life challenges. Eric was shaped by his own 18 years as a camper and staff member at Camp Barney Medintz and is a founder of Limmud Atlanta, which adopts a multi-generational family camp model.

We all agree that family life in America is overscheduled and isolating. Digital devices distract and distance us. Epic traffic and long commutes chip away at family time. Moms, dads, kids, teens and grandparents desperately need to carve out more down-time and rediscover each other. A joyful, immersive Jewish family camp can be a restorative island of sacred time where we put our devices away, talk face-to-face, and simply have fun together.

Fingerman notes that while a growing number of Jewish camps run family retreats before and after the summer season, opportunities to attract a broader range of families would result from offering “vacations” throughout the summer.

Burg adds that the idea of a dedicated Jewish overnight camp for families is “wholly different and impossible to create by simply adapting kids’ camps to serve the needs of families. “Singing the same songs with our children that we sang when we were first at camp, having grandparents and grandchildren making s’mores together, are powerful memory-making experiences, unique to family camp.”

When Robbins, a former camp director, thinks about family camp he stresses that weekends don’t cut it the way a week does. “For every day away, the benefits are exponential,” he says. “Immersive, week-long opportunities for families are what we envision.”

Think about it — all that really ties Camp Michigania families together is the University of Michigan. Now imagine the power of week-long retreats where connections are rooted in Jewish wisdom and rituals. Where food and language, holidays and songs, and traditions are the foundation for friendships. Where Shabbat is the highlight of the week. Imagine a place where your sense of belonging comes from being on “Team Judaism” and the wisdom of nearly 6,000 years of tradition. What a nourishing way for families to engage with one another and build community!

Who better to create new family camp than us? From Catskill bungalow colonies to early Settlement House camps, American Jews – more than any other group – have created, perfected and scaled the institution of overnight summer camp. No surprise to us that Camp Michigania’s longtime director is Jewish, or that lots and lots of Jewish families attend year after year.

As advocates, our next step is to create a prototype of the Jewish family camp we want to see. We know we’ll have to train staff to meet the special requirements of family programming. We know we’ll need to find a beautiful and accessible site somewhere that will work for all ages. But we also know American Jewish families have never needed it more!

If you’re interested in paddling along with us, please get in touch.