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Never Underestimate the Power of Jewish Day Camp

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

By Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, 
There is no question that summer is in full swing in Atlanta and summer means day camp for so many of Atlanta’s families. Each summer, approximately 3,000 children will attend Jewish day camps, where they will experience unique joyful Judaism and experiential education which they get to bring home to their families each evening.

“Jewish Day Camp is where my children can be most proudly, happily and authentically themselves,” says Eliana Leader. “They can be joyfully and loudly Jewish, explore their creativity, take chances, and expand their horizons. As a parent I love seeing the connections my kids make with their counselors as cool Jewish role models.”

Another day camp parent shared that they love that their children get to meet kids from a wide array of Jewish backgrounds, while other parents love that the language of Shabbat and kashrut is interwoven throughout the programming.

Jewish Atlanta is blessed to have so many phenomenal day camps to meet the needs of the diversity of our community. We know that the impact goes beyond the summer as these connections continue throughout the year and into the future summers and their families’ collective Jewish journeys.

Scholarships Send Hundreds to Camp This Summer

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Federation’s Jewish Camp initiative has lots to celebrate as 2022 summer camp season approaches. As of mid-May 2022, our generous donors have raised $960K to help send nearly 700 kids to overnight Jewish camps. Atlanta kids aren’t just going to Jewish camps in our region, they will be attending 38 FJC (Foundation for Jewish Camp) affiliated camps across North America!

One grateful scholarship family said: “My family and I cannot thank you enough for your generous support. It has been an extremely difficult year and our daughter would not be going to camp without this help. This is the first time she has ever liked a sleep away camp, so we are thrilled to be able to send her back for a second summer! Thanks again for all of the hard work you do!”

Here’s how the funding breaks down:

  • One Happy Camper Grants: $275,550 to 363 campers
  • Needs Based Scholarships: $671,868 to 319 campers
  • Russian Speaking Jewish Access Grants: $12,000 to 11 campers

Todah rabah! We are so incredibly grateful for this gift. You have truly made camp happen for our son.  Thank you for helping us send our child to camp, it truly is his happy place.”

“Wow! I am overcome with emotions right now and am beyond grateful for this generous scholarship! It definitely alleviates the financial stress, allowing me to feel at ease with sending my daughter to camp this summer!! She had the most amazing experience as a first-time camper last year and really wanted to go back this summer! Please know that I am forever grateful. I know her Jewish camp experience will only help nurture her connection to Judaism and to becoming more connected the community in Atlanta. Thank you thank you so very much!”

More Family Camp Weekends!

By CARING, COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Earlier this month 27 families totaling nearly 100 people gathered for Family Camp: Passover Edition at Ramah Darom. Once again, Federation helped create and convene an immersive family camp weekend along with partners 18Doors, Be’Chol Lashon, PJ Library Atlanta, Ma’alot, and the Israeli American Council.  Other family camp experiences have included PJ Library Atlanta’s Book it to Shabbat celebrating the love of Jewish books. In March, families gathered at camp for The Grand Getaway, bringing grandparents and grandkids together in partnership with Ramah Darom, the Jewish Grandparents Network, and PJ Our Way.

The Passover themed weekend targeted diverse families and was specifically geared for little ones, ages 0-5. Over the weekend families connected with one another in Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish. Bonds were forged over fireside chats, making charoset recipes from around the world, and dancing with handmade tambourines. Families who had previously felt marginalized due to their cultural identity, family structure, etc. shared that it was the first time they felt not only welcomed but embraced and celebrated by the Atlanta Jewish community.

Families said:

  • Our favorite part of the weekend was simply being immersed in Jewish culture with other Jewish families. All of the hosts and co-leaders were extremely welcoming, nice, and accommodating. It truly made us feel welcome, at home, and less-stressed in a new environment, when surrounded by so many new families.
  • We’ve always wanted to attend a weekend like this. We aren’t as involved in our Jewish community as we once were, and we’d love to be more involved again. After attending this weekend we know that there is a space for us in the community

Following the success of these weekends Federation is interested in expanding additional experiential offerings as well as a weeklong family camp. Interested? Let Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Director of Family Engagement & Education, know what kind of experience you’re looking for.

The Southeast is Making Jewish Camp a Priority

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

In October 2021 the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) opened its Southeast Center in Atlanta. I am grateful to have been selected as its inaugural Director, and also to the Zalik Foundation for their support in helping the Southeast Center become a reality. During our first year, we have been primarily focused on Atlanta and the FJC Camps that are strongly tied to the community including Camp Barney Medintz, MJCCA Day Camps, Camp Ramah Darom, URJ Camp Coleman, URJ 6 Points Academy, In the City Camps, and Camp Judaea.
We are focused on building a strong professional Jewish Camp community by listening and learning the needs of each camp. Since nearly all seven of the Directors serving Atlanta are new, we offered them and their Facility Managers a Southeast Jewish Camp Tour. It was a wonderful way to learn about the camps and deepen the connections between our camp professionals. Additionally, the FJC-Southeast Center has been collaborating with Hillels throughout the SE to plan camp staff recruitment events and explore other ways that we can work together to strengthen our camps and campuses. 

It is also very exciting that FJC Leader’s Assembly 2022 will take place in Atlanta, December 4-6, 2022. FJC Leader’s Assembly consistently draws 750 or more attendees from throughout North America and even overseas including camp professionals, Board Members, Foundations, donors, and many others working closely with the Jewish camping community. Our local host committee is committed to sharing our city’s unique elements, culture, and talent with those who will be joining us from throughout North America and the world. 

 Bobby Harris spent 36 years serving as Camp Director/Jewish Educator at Camp Young Judaea-Sprout Lake, JCC Camp Arthur-Reeta, and 30 summers as Director of URJ Camp Coleman. Bobby is now working to strengthen Jewish camps in the Southeast.

Bobby Harris

Director, Foundation for Jewish Camp

You Can Help Send More Kids to Camp

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

“Though he’s attended Jewish day camps since Pre-K, our son’s experience at overnight camp last year was deeply impactful. Our little boy came back a strong, confident, independent young man, filled with tears of joy, excitement, and memories that will last a lifetime. What an amazing opportunity to know years from now, our children will have lifelong friends because of their time at camp. It’s an experience they won’t be able to have without financial support, and we are truly grateful for the opportunity to reach out to you for this help.”

DONATE TODAY

When you support the Start a Campfire campaign you can help nearly 1,000 kids go to Jewish overnight camp this coming summer! We’re huge cheerleaders for camp because study after study proves that camp builds positive identity and creates life-long Jewish connections. Last year, over 200 Jewish Atlantans helped raise $50,000+ which provided 400+ camp scholarships for Jewish overnight camp. Your donation will be matched 1:1 through February 28!

One Happy Family: The Einhorns Go to Camp

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

With assistance from One Happy Camper incentive grants and Federation’s Jewish Camp Initiative scholarships, four out of five members of the Einhorn family, including Dad Ronnie, went to Ramah Darom this summer and had a blast. Cela was the family’s returning camper. The other Einhorn kids, Sam and Goldie, didn’t really know what to expect, but all had a sense that it would be a unique, shared family experience. It was!  

Ronnie Einhorn, who is a teacher at The Epstein School, had the pleasure of seeing each of his kids blossom at camp every day and also experienced personal and professional growth coming to Ramah Darom as a seasoned teacher and learning to be a camp educator from his colleagues. “Each week seeing the community coming together for Kabbalat Shabbat and ending Shabbat in an explosion at Havdalah, was a thrill,” he said.  

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, working mom Heidi Einhorn held down the fort at home and delighted in the happy reports she got from Ronnie and the kids. “Their favorite parts of camp were all over the place,” Heidi said. “The lake! The pool! Rikkudiah (an all-camp dance performance)! For me, having all of them come home so independent and grateful to be together again, was a joy.” 

For Cela, the Einhorn’s oldest child and a returning camper, being back at camp felt both like meeting new people and also like they hadn’t been apart at all. Meanwhile, her younger brother Sam was planning to only go to camp for two weeks, but stayed for four because, in addition to the activities he loved, he knew he would, “be so happy with all [his] friends and grow up with them.” Camp helped them connect not only to their friends but also to Judaism. Cela shared that she will be using many of the camp tunes from tefillot (prayers) in her Bat Mitzvah this coming year. 

Neither Heidi nor Ronnie Einhorn attended overnight camp as kids, but they made a commitment early in their relationship to build their family on a foundation of Judaism and Jewish community. “We’re so grateful to have rich relationships with Congregation Shearith Israel, Jewish Kids Groups, Intown Hebrew School, Federation, and so many other organizations in Atlanta. The fact that each of them recognizes the impact of camp on Jewish identity tells it all. Seeing the lifelong relationships coming out of camp would be enough, but our kids come home choosing our Camp Ramah playlist on Spotify, choosing after-dinner rikkud (dance shows) over screens, ‘accidentally’ referring to things by their Hebrew names, confirming that we are seeing the theory in practice!” 

MJCCA Day Camps — The Smiles are Even Bigger

By Jewish Camp Initiative

If it’s possible, the smiles are even bigger, the laughs even louder, and the joy even more palpable at MJCCA Day Camps this summer. Campers are loving every activity and type of camp, from zip lining, coding, archery, tennis, and boating to swimming, performing arts, fishing, cooking, and gymnastics. They are connecting with friends, trying new things, making new friends, and showing off their ruach (spirit) as they get back to making lifelong memories after a challenging year. 

“As we all know, COVID-19 created formidable challenges, and we are grateful for the significant financial support and expert guidance regarding navigating this pandemic that we received from the Federation in meeting those challenges,” said Jared Powers, CEO, MJCCA. “It was paramount for us to pivot to ensure a transformative, meaningful, and safe summer for all our campers. I wish everyone could witness the magic that is happening every minute of every day at MJCCA Day Camps. We are impacting lives and building lifetime connections. There is truly nothing like it.” 

For the Day Camps team, ensuring a continuation of impactful programing, even during the pandemic, has been the top priority. From planning last summer’s vital Summer Days @ the J, to innovating the school year’s Club J Your Way, they continually monitored and evaluated all public health guidelines and adjusted accordingly with health and safety as the top priority. 

Though some aspects of camp are different, like masks indoors and cohorts, the fun and adventure is more evident, and maybe even more important. There is also much that is new, like a climbing tower and zip line, full archery range, and theme camps including Delicious Disney, Extreme Art, and Video Game Builders. 

After a year unlike any other, MJCCA Day Camps is thrilled to bring the magic of summer to hundreds of campers this summer. 

Elated Parents, Happy Kids

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

The much-anticipated re-opening of Jewish camps for summer 2021 is happening in full force! Duffle bags are being packed. Names are being written on everything, even masks!  Staff is on site at all of our regional overnight camps, and campers have begun to arrive. Our Jewish day camps are bursting with energy.   

Jewish Camp Initiative Manager, Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, has been joyful and even a little teary to see so many kids returning to camp or going for the first time.  “A year ago, we had no idea what the future of Jewish camping looked like. And now, our camps are filled with campers and staff ready to dive back in and re-engage with this amazing immersive summer experience.”  

But don’t just take our word for it, hear from parents and professionals who are witnessing Summer 2021’s glorious reopening first-hand: 

A Camp Barney Mom:
Michelle Michelman, who grew up in New Orleans, is a Camp Barney Medintz alumna. Not surprisingly, her older daughter Ava, 11 has spent three fabulous summers at Barney and was heartbroken over last summer’s shut-down. “Ava talked about camp all year long in incredible detail — Shabbat, the ‘Blob,’ and her favorite activities. When she felt down about missing camp, she just texted her friends. We dropped Ava off last weekend and her younger sister Liza will be at Barney later this summer for a 10-day session for younger kids.” 

“I have no anxiety about my girls being at camp this summer in regards to COVID-19 or their general safety. Going through Hurricane Katrina taught me a lot about coming through on the other side. Our camps have spent a lot of time and planning to ensure our kids have a safe summer. 

To me, camp is a remarkable skill-building, growing experience — it’s everything! I jokingly tell the kids, ‘We will eat ramen noodles in order to send you to camp. It’s that important.”

Day Camp Parent:
Gabby Sirner-Cohen, said, “What a relief it was to drop off my little guy at In the City Camps on Monday morning. Their COVID protocols eased my nerves, and the warm, friendly staff eased my son’s nerves.” 

A Camp Director:
Danny Herz, Director of URJ 6 Points Sports Academy says: “Being back on campus brings such great anticipation for a wonderful summer ahead of transformative Jewish experiences. The energy is palpable, and I cannot wait to see the smiles on faces and the excitement amongst our staff and faculty after almost two years of being away! We are thrilled to be able to have our community of Jewish athletes be whole and together once again!” 

A Camp Counselor Parent:
Gayle Smith said, “My daughter Gabrielle is up at Ramah Darom right now for staff training. We moved to Atlanta from Memphis while she was still in high school, and this is her first time going to a Jewish overnight camp. Gabrielle was lucky to get active in BBYO here and it connected her to a great group of Jewish girls who were going to be counselors this summer. She said, ‘I want this.’ Our family has moved quite a bit and Gabrielle’s exposure to Jewish life has been up and down, but it has really expanded since we moved to Atlanta.”

“I’m excited for her and thrilled that she chose to work at camp, all on her own, right before going to college. Her brother Ethan, 12 will be a first-time camper at Ramah for second session and we’re so grateful for the One Happy Camper grant that’s getting him there.”

Loving Shabbat, Learning our Heritage

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Camp Initiative

Lana Severinsky is one of PJ Library’s Russian Community Coordinators. It’s been her job to spread the word that generous tuition grants are available for kids from Russian speaking Jewish families (RSJ) to attend Jewish overnight camps this summer. The grants are made possible with the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).

Lana’s eight-year-old daughter Vera received aRSJ Camp Access grant and is “beyond excited” go to Camp Coleman in just a few weeks! “My wish for Vera is that camp gives her a sense of the larger Jewish community. She has some Jewish kids in her class, but I want her to understand Jewish peoplehood — what it is to have Shabbat with all your friends, to sing and dance, and feel pride in being Jewish.” 

Elina Brager came to Atlanta from the former Soviet Union 30 years ago at age 18. Opportunities to experience Jewish religion and culture were extremely limited in Russia and there was no such thing as Jewish camp when she was growing up. “Going to camp was just not something Jewish families did. Now the most important thing for me and my family is that we learn our Jewish heritage and celebrate it. That’s why my daughter Naomi is a student at The Epstein School and why we wanted her to go to Ramah Darom the summer before the pandemic. Camp tuition has increased, so this grant makes it possible for Naomi to return.”  

“Naomi really grew at camp. She matured. She felt the joy of being Jewish. Her world expanded. I could see how connected she felt to her friends, to Jewish culture. We are so grateful that she’ll be able to go back to camp this summer.”