'Specialty' Camp Boom


March  13, 2012, The Jewish Week

Julie Wiener

Less than three years after five Jewish "specialty" camps opened their cabin doors, the Foundation for Jewish Camp will help launch four, possibly five, additional special-themed overnight camps.

With an $8.6 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation and Avi Chai Foundation - their second jointly funded camping initiative this year - the Foundation for Jewish Camp announced this week that it is seeking proposals for "Specialty Camp Incubator II."

The first incubator's five products, which collectively have exceeded enrollment goals by 146 percent, are focused on sports, environmental sustainability, outdoor adventure, wilderness travel and arts/fashion. One, Passport NYC, is located in Manhattan, and another - Eden Village Camp - is 50 miles north of Manhattan.

In an interview last month, before the new incubator's official announcement, FJC Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Fingerman emphasized that his organization is seeking "fresh new ideas and new models," rather than "spin-offs of the existing specialty camps," which he said can be launched without the support of an incubator.

Two specialties the FJC is particularly interested in supporting, he told The Jewish Week, are performing arts and a focus on serving special-needs children. A camp focused on science and technology is also a priority.

The new specialty camp incubator was announced at the FJC's biannual Leaders Assembly. With more than 650 participants, a mix of camp professionals, lay leaders and Jewish federations, this week's conference, held at a hotel in New Brunswick, N.J., was the 14-year-old FJC's largest ever.

At a time when many Jewish organizations are contracting, the nonprofit Jewish camp world continues to enjoy significant growth, fueled in large part by its popularity among heavy-hitter Jewish philanthropists, many of whom see camp as one of the most effective ways to engage and educate Jewish youth.

Indeed, at this week's conference, Fingerman, whose group has a budget of more than $15 million, announced that enrollment at the approximately 150 camps it works with, has increased by 7 percent in the past two years. He also noted that several major foundations, including the Crown Family Philanthropies and the Larry & Lillian Goodman Foundation, have recently made first-time gifts to the FJC.

Also reflecting the camping world's clout, the plenary session featured the top leaders of North America's three major seminaries: Yeshiva University, Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

In addition to the new incubator project, the FJC is launching several other major new initiatives this year: a $3.3 million project to forge ties between camps and year-round Jewish educational programs and a $3.6 million effort to expand Israel education at overnight camps.

More modest in financial scale, but also new, is a teen philanthropy pilot project by the Jewish Teen Funders Network in 20 camps.


The Jewish Week, 2012