By Tracy Levine (From UJCNJ.Org)
One of the calls or e-mails that I look forward to every year is the one that brings an update from the Feigelman family of Short Hills. This family is living proof of the transformative impact of Jewish overnight camp — their first camp experience was a key step on the rich Jewish journey that continues today.
While the various research on the far-reaching benefits of Jewish summer camp, especially overnight camp, is fascinating, it’s still simply graphics and numbers on a page. What I find really inspiring are the real life stories of the campers that I meet.
Now in my third “camp season” as manager of the One Happy Camper NJ program, I’m able to keep up with campers over multiple summers and share in their evolving experiences. Like the Feigelmans.
I first met the Feigelmans at the 2010 Mitzvot of MetroWest program (the annual fair for upcoming B’nai Mitzvah students that helps them find a mitzvah project), when they attended with their son, Max.
Katie, Max’s mom, had vaguely heard about the MetroWest camp grant program but never checked it out; upon stopping by my table (attracted by the indoor campfire and marshmallows!) she became intrigued after we spoke. Max’s older sisters, Emily and Sarah, had their B’not Mitzvah the prior year and weren’t attending religious school anymore, and so they were looking for a meaningful way to reconnect with the Jewish community.
What a perfect opportunity to connect three terrific teens with an amazing Jewish camp experience! After discussing various options, I connected the Feigelmans with Camp Harlam, which as a Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camp is a nice complement to their affiliation with Temple B’nai Jeshurun. Each child received a gift of the $1,000 One Happy Camper grant and all went on to have an incredible summer.
Sarah reflected: “Here is what Jewish overnight camp gave us that we would never get anywhere else — we got to sing Jewish songs and dance Israeli dances. Shabbat was the highlight of the week, something we were sad to leave on Saturday night, but something we could look forward to all over again. But here is something else that Jewish overnight camp gave us: it gave us a community of friends who shared our experiences, friends we are still in touch with through Skype ALL THE TIME. and friends whom we CAN’T WAIT to see again this summer at camp.”
And guess what? In fall 2011, inspired by their camp experience, Emily and Sarah enrolled in the temple’s confirmation class. Katie attributes camp for reconnecting her children with their Judaism. As for Max, after attending camp for two summers, he enrolled in the synagogue’s eighth-grade program, and both Max and Emily serve as “Madrichim” assisting the younger grades.
This coming summer, Emily and Sarah are taking yet another step on their Jewish journeys — a trip to Israel with the Camp Harlam group! And Max is excited to return to Camp Harlam where he will move up to the K’far Noar teen village.
This is just one of the stories behind the statistics. Multiply that by the over 700 grants we have provided so far, and you’ll feel as optimistic as I do about the future of our Jewish community.
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One Happy Camper NJ is administered by The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, a partner agency of UJC MetroWest. To find the right camp for your child(ren) and learn about the $1,000 new camper grants, e-mail tracy@onehappycamperNJ.org.
Tracy Levine is manager of One Happy Camper NJ at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life