Opinion | The comeback begins

Two children in paddleboats on a lake.
Beth Tfiloh campers put down their phones and enjoy the paddleboats. (Photo by Kohn Creative, courtesy of BT Camps)

By Jeremy J. Fingerman

I can’t believe we have finally arrived at this special time — the reopening of summer camps and the rebuilding of communities. We’ve held on to the promise that “the comeback is always stronger than the setback.” Truly, the power of camp will be an antidote for the collective trauma that we have experienced and endured these past 15 months.

And now, the comeback begins.

We are overwhelmed with simcha, joy, knowing so many Jewish camps will reopen their gates for the first time in two years. Even more so this summer, opening day brings tears of joy and relief as campers arrive to the sweet smells of sunscreen, bug spray and pine needles and the cheers of their awaiting counselors.

As we approach this milestone, we know this outcome was not predetermined. As a result of camp closures in 2020, overnight camps faced a $150 million funding gap. To sustain our camps through the pandemic, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with the collective effort and support of donors and partners, as well as camp families and alumni, secured emergency loans and funds so camps could stay afloat. We then pivoted and raised funds so camps could adapt their capacity to meet COVID-19 safety standards and welcome back campers to their grounds for summer 2021 and beyond.

However, none of this would have been possible without the incredible work of camp professionals. I am in awe of their resilience, dedication and ingenuity in overcoming every twist and turn that came their way. All of the contingency planning, constant revising and detailed preparing has paid off and the moment has arrived. Camp professionals have worked tirelessly, in ways we may never fully know, to prepare for this summer of renewal. Thanks to our collective efforts, tens of thousands of campers and staff are returning to their second home.

The significance of this occasion was underscored for me three weeks ago at our Cornerstone Fellowship, FJC’s longest-running, premiere Jewish educational and leadership development program for veteran counselors. With almost 400 virtual participants, the theme — Mah Norah Hamakom Hazeh, How Awesome is This Place! — fits this moment so well. Taken from Parshat Vayetzei (which begins in Genesis 28:10), Jacob stops his journey to sleep for the night and dreams of a ladder with angels on it going up and down between heaven and earth. In the dream, God blesses Jacob and brings him into the Covenant. When Jacob wakes up, he declares: “‘Achein yeish Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati,’ va’yirah v’omer, ‘mah norah hamakom hazeh!’” “‘Surely God is in this place, and I did not know,’ Shaken, he says, ‘How awesome is this place!’” (28:16-17).

As campers and counselors return to their summer homes, they will soon experience how truly awesome, “norah,” it is to be together, not just in a physical sense, but like Jacob, a special space and community created anew by the people and magical experiences that happens there.

Our communal comeback is not just possible, it is here and now … and it is awesome.

Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

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