From the Professional Team

No Summer Break for Jewish Learning

July 8th, 2013

Summer is upon us.  For some, the season brings a reduced work load and a much needed respite from a demanding schedule.  But for literally thousands of beneficiaries of Jim Joseph Foundation funding support, these few summer months are suffused with the ruach of living in an immersive Jewish environment, intensive Jewish study, and powerful peer learning experiences.

Most obvious to readers of this column is the fact that summer Jewish residential camping imbues youth and camp staff with Jewish memories that often last a life time.  In 2013, five Jim Joseph Foundation funded Jewish specialty camps will host an estimated 1400 campers guided by approximately 226 counselors.  These camps emerged out of a masterly crafted Foundation for Jewish Camp Specialty Camps Incubator.  A growing number of Jewish youth seek out these camps because they effectively blend immersive skill building niche experiences with great opportunity for Jewish teens to find friendship among their Jewish peers. (An interesting finding from a formative evaluation of the specialty camps is that in 2011, 1,000 campers of these specialty camps reported they would have otherwise not attended Jewish camp.)

The NADIV educators, funded by the Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations, have completed their first academic year at a day school or synagogue and now are at various Jewish summer camps.  These educators serve in a number of camp roles — setting a vision and goals for Jewish education at their camp, supervising seasonal education staff, coordinating visiting rabbinic faculty, developing curriculum and training, and planning and leading Jewish educational programs, tefillah and staff enrichment, as examples.  Obviously, working year-round in a day or congregational school and summer camp makes for challenging professional responsibilities.  At the same time, this employment offers an opportunity for professionalizing the work of the Jewish educator while also increasing opportunities for the professional to help day and congregational schools become better “feeders” of overnight Jewish camps.

While many college students are home for the summer, Hillel is in high season preparing for its annual Summer Engagement Institute.  Hillel anticipates 20 educators and 300 students will participate in four days of sharing and learning at the August convening.  Prior to the Engagement Institute, 400 of its professionals gather to take part in in-depth workshops on Jewish professional development and facilitation, engagement and fundraising skills.

This summer also brings together early childhood education cohorts I & II in the cooperative HUC/JTS Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute (JECELI) Seminar.  These 30 educators and 8 mentors will critically examine developmental psychology, pedagogy, and best practices in nurturing Jewish preschoolers.

At BBYO, three Directors of Jewish Enrichment funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation are headlong into a busy summer.  Among their responsibilities the next few months are staffing of both BBYO’s International Leadership Training Conference attended by 225 teens and BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel, in which more than 100 teens participate.

The term “summer break” quite clearly does not apply to these initiatives and to the organizations that offer them. These next few months are in fact rife with vibrant Jewish learning, both individual and communal, and expressions of joyous Judaism that worthy grantees of the Jim Joseph Foundation make possible for thousands of Jewish teens, youth, and young adults.