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Jewish Camp Initiative

Support Our Commitment to Camping

By Jewish Camp Initiative


Although each of Federation’s five regional residential camp partners (Camp Barney Medintz, Camp Judaea, Camp Ramah Darom, URJ Camp Coleman, and URJ 6 Points Sports Academy in NC) made the decision to close to physical programming this summer, they’ve all been working hard to provide virtual programming, sustain connections with campers, and plan for the future.

Even with these closings, a small number of camps whose campers received Federation scholarships made the choice to open. A total of 24 campers at 10 camps across the country, received $39,213 in scholarship support. While this is a mere 4% of our planned awards for the year, we are grateful that we were able to support these campers.

Like the camps, we’ve used this time to craft a new scholarship initiative for families at our regional overnight camps that closed. Families can now roll their scholarships over into summer 2021, provided they also make a commitment to re-enroll/roll forward their tuition. This allows families to feel confident about their financial ability to send their children to camp in 2021. It also provides the camp with an advance on funding which is helpful for their current financial strains.

Camp professionals around the country are immersed in discussions about the future of Jewish camp, the role of Federations, how to build virtual communities, family camp, and more. We’re proud that Atlanta is a leader in the camp conversation.  As summer nears its official end, we are thinking hard about how to support our regional camps in a new world of recruitment without travel, and how to reach families who will need to apply for financial aid for the first time ever for next summer.

How Friendship Circle Inspired Me

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

By Daniel Stern

I was still a freshman at The Weber School when my older sisters suggested it was time I took part in Tikkun Olam(repairing the world.) It was at this point that I decided to volunteer with Friendship Circle’s “Buddies at Home” program. I signed up and became a buddy to a young adult with special needs named Mike. Mike and I met nearly weekly, as our schedules permitted, and we had so much fun hanging out, playing sports together, going to the dog park, having lunch, and things like that. It was a great relationship.

By the time I was a sophomore, I began to think about creating a one-week summer day camp for people with disabilities modeled on Friendship Circle, where every camper has a “buddy.” I was really pumped to do it, but I did not have a plan set in stone. My Mom said, ‘Go for it, but, remember, this is your project, not mine.’ I went to the Sandy Springs Tennis Center and asked them if they’d donate a couple of tennis courts, and they said, OK. I was excited to launch what I was then calling “Serve it Up” Summer Camp, but pretty soon it dawned on me that I needed a little backup. I wanted it to be a free camp to encourage all who wanted to participate to attend. I knew I needed to raise money and I knew I needed my friends to help pull this off. I launched a Go-Fund-Me campaign online that raised over $1,000 for us to get started.

I worked with Rickelle New, the Director of Friendship Circle, and I created the tennis program and she created the arts and crafts program. We developed a flyer and reached out to all of the families that had participated in Friendship Circle activities. Recruiting my friends to become buddies for our campers was the next challenge, but eventually more than 20 of my friends signed up to volunteer. It was a great success to be outside playing tennis with our special friends. So, the following summer, I was excited to create another camp. We decided to move the camp indoors to the gym at Atlanta Jewish Academy, so those who did not want to be outside all day could also participate. That summer, we played many sports in addition to tennis and still included arts and crafts. Many of our campers with special needs even had two buddies! I learned that many people with disabilities have other health issues. They can’t take the heat and need the comfort of air conditioning.

I really thought I was doing this for kids with special needs. But, when the parents of these kids came up to me and told me how much they valued the camp, it felt so good. I realized that not only did the kids benefit, but their entire families benefited from what we had created. So did my volunteers. Now, as a freshman at Vanderbilt University, with the benefit of hindsight and a little maturity, I can see I was also doing it because of the values I learned in my family, at school, and through Friendship Circle. When you help others and build real relationships, you are doing the work of tikkun olam.

Camp Szarvas

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, Jewish Camp Initiative, JEWISH JOURNEYS

They’ll Never Take Being Jewish for Granted After Camp Szarvas

Gefen Beldie, who is a junior this year at Atlanta Jewish Academy, has spent most of her life in Israel and in the security of her Toco Hills community, where there are six synagogues within a mile of her house and where being Jewish is as easy as breathing.  Gefen never imagined the kinds of conversations she’d have as one of 19 U.S. teenagers accepted to attend Camp Szarvas, an international Jewish summer camp run by the JDC in Hungary and supported by Federation. Campers attend Szarvas from all over the world and for most of them it’s the most Jewish experience they’ve ever had.

“At Szarvas I found myself getting into intense conversations about identity, and I was up for it. I became friendly with a Czech girl who had very little exposure to Judaism. There are only two kosher restaurants in her whole country and her parents were actually reluctant to reveal their Jewish identity to her.  I could see that it was powerful for her to have an opportunity to live in a community of Jews for the first time in her life.”

For Shani Shapiro, one of this year’s Shinshinim from Zichron Yaakov, Israel, the experience of attending Camp Szarvas several years ago motivated her to apply for the Shinshinim program. At camp, where so many kids were getting their first taste of Judaism, she began introducing herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Shani, I’m Jewish.” Shani told of meeting a girl from Turkey who was sent to Szarvas by her parents. “She didn’t even know she was Jewish until she called them up and asked, ‘Why are things written in Hebrew here?’ This girl was shocked to learn about her identity. In Turkey it’s dangerous to be Jewish, she was literally starting from scratch.”

By contrast, Shani met kids from Moldova, a tiny country between Romania and Ukraine, who were strong in their Judaism and proud of it. That made an impression on her, too. “No one needs to tell me I am Jewish, but now I appreciate that some kids are afraid. I always dreamed of doing something bigger outside of Israel after high school,” Shani said. “Being part of Shinshinim Atlanta is opening my eyes to the American way of being Jewish.”