L’Dor V’Dor: Educating the Next Jewish Generation at Camp

L’Dor V’Dor (from generation to generation)—we hear this phrase so often that we rarely stop to consider its true meaning. Given the Reform Jewish community’s reaction to the recent Pew Research Center study called “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” that saying requires an expanded meaning–we Jews expect that our people will endure eternally. But that won’t happen in a vacuum or with only good thoughts. We, those alive living this very day, are all responsible for teaching the stories, initiating the passion, and living out Jewish spirit and values with our children and grandchildren.

But how can we do that? Can one individual make a difference? Can one congregation or community make a difference? I can answer that question easily for mine, Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA where the answer is our Sisterhood. Yes, it is our Sisterhood’s investment in our youth that will ensure that Judaism doesn’t just survive, but thrive.

There are many worthy causes for the thousands and thousands of dollars that sisterhoods raise each year. Through WRJ’s YES Fund, WRJ annually supports professional Jewish education at HUC-JIR and education for our youth through NFTY and our camps. Our sisterhood, however, although it continues to support the YES Fund (remaining a member of the highest YES Fund honor society, the Kavod Society, for many years), has taken a giant step beyond it as well. How do we do that?

We have created two board-established funds that subsidize our youths’ engagement in Reform Jewish activities. The Sofian Youth Fund ensures that every child attending any NFTY event receives $50 toward registration; sometimes we have 15 kids attending each event and NFTY-PAR has more than 6 events per year. Our Tree of Life Fund gives $400 incentive grants for first-year attendance at a URJ summer program, most often at URJ Camp Harlam or URJ Kutz Camp but also to Mitzvah Corps and 6 Points Sports and Sci-Tech camps.

And, just last evening, my sisterhood again stepped forward. The brand new URJ Harlam Day Camp in the metro Philadelphia area debuts this June. Several Lancaster parents were so thrilled with the idea of a Reform Jewish day camp that they agreed to send their kids if transportation was provided as kids will travel more than one hour each way. And, Harlam said yes! My sisterhood will issue $100 incentive grants for first-year attendance at URJ Harlam Day Camp. And the sisterhood women are considering establishing a new fund to make this an ongoing program.

Just as the women of Women of Reform Judaism have always understood that children immersed in Jewish life at camp are forever transformed, so my sisterhood believes similarly. Our sisterhood chooses to put its money into its values–our children are the future. Instead of wringing our hands over the Pew study, we are making sure our children have the most positive Jewish experience we can offer them–time spent at one of the Movement’s summer camps and with NFTY.

So when Seder rolled around and we read that we will celebrate in Jerusalem next year and it asked what we could do to bring the Messiah, I suggested we look no farther than ourselves and our sisterhoods. I shared that we can build ‘next year in Jerusalem’ or the Jewish people by helping our young Jews connect with and celebrate their Judaism today.

Come visit us at URJ Camp Harlam and URJ Harlam Day Camp (or one of the other URJ camps) this summer!

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Rosanne M. Selfon

About Rosanne M. Selfon

Rosanne Miller Selfon is a proud NFTY alum and lifelong Reform Jew from Lancaster, PA, where she was the first bat mitzvah in 1961. Today she is the only life member of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim. As a past president of Women of Reform Judaism, she is a lifetime member of the WRJ Board of Directors. She has been a member of the URJ Board of Trustees since the early 1990s and currently serves as the Chairman of the URJ Camp Harlam Council and Vice-Chair of the NAC. To date, two of her three grandchildren are Harlam campers.

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