The Foundation for Jewish Camp held its “Leaders Assembly 202.0” online conference March 16, in place of the in-person conference that had been scheduled in Baltimore for March 15. Had the conference been held in its original format, it would have been the second time it was held in Baltimore, the first time being in 2018.
“Foundation for Jewish Camp is an umbrella organization created in 1998 to raise the quality of Jewish camps and to raise the number of Jewish kids going to camp every summer,” said Rachel Moore of Moore Connected Communications, a public relations firm hired by FJC. Moore described the conference as a way to bring “together lay leaders and professionals in the field who care passionately about developing Jewish camp, and who might otherwise never meet. It’s also focused on innovation and adaptation, showing new programs, highlighting new initiatives and ideas, thinking out of the box.”
The outbreak of COVID-19, however, made what had been expected to be a conference with more than 800 attendees impossible to hold, according to FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman, who spoke with the JT prior to the virtual conference. The FJC worked rapidly to reorganize the conference into an online format, and Fingerman praised his team’s creativity and spirit of collaboration.
The conference was largely held via a series of Zoom meetings and had more than 600 participants, according to Moore. By contrast, the 2018 Baltimore conference had approximately 770 participants.
The Tony Award-winning actor Ben Platt, known for his role in the musical “Dear Evan Hanson,” expressed his disappointment in the cancellation of the in-person conference through a video on FJC’s YouTube channel. Speaking from his New York apartment, Platt said, “I know you all have such compassion and commitment to Jewish camping, and the Jewish community, and hoping this will all pass as soon as possible. … Thank you for all you do for the community. I know that camp has meant the world to me.” Platt is an alumnus of Camp Ramah in California, according to Moore.
Many of the meetings were organized around specific issues of interest, such as culinary camp, body image issues at camp, and making space for Jews of color. “In general these topics are highly relevant in the field, and the presenters are really top content experts in their respective areas,” said Fingerman.
The COVID-19 outbreak was a topic of significant discussion during the conference as well. Three sessions were added to the schedule to address it specifically. “FJC used the online conference as an opportunity to not only address the implication of COVID-19, but to remind and reassure camps that FJC will remain a constant resource,” Moore said.
Prior to the conference, Moore noted that specialty camps would be a significant subject of the event, saying that a number of sessions would focus on “specialty tracks, including cooking camps, surfing camps, sports camps, arts camps. All of these camps have the normal Jewish camp infrastructure while allowing campers to focus on their interests.”
Moore also noted that providing mental health resources, for both campers and staff, would also be an important topic at the conference.
While many view COVID-19 as a hindrance to public events, Fingerman pointed out the positive benefits of moving the conference online, such as the lack of hotel and travel costs. He also noted that the lack of face-to-face interaction would be felt in the virtual format, and some might not be familiar with the technology.
While hoping to return both to in-person conferences and the Baltimore area soon, Fingerman speculated that even after COVID-19 is no longer a factor, FJC could conceivably organize future online conferences in between its face-to-face gatherings.
“We can’t be afraid to try new things, as long as we learn and grow from each experience,”