From Campbell’s to camp: A conversation with Jeremy Fingerman

From Campbell’s to camp: A conversation with Jeremy Fingerman

The Foundation for Jewish Camp has tapped Jeremy Fingerman of Englewood as its new chief executive officer. He succeeds Jerry Silverman, now CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Fingerman, a Harvard Business School graduate who formerly headed Campbell Soup Co.’s U.S. Soup Division and the management group for Manischewitz foods, moved to Englewood with his wife, Gail, in September 2005. Their 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter attend The Moriah School there.

With an annual budget of more than $22 million, FJC provides leadership, expertise, advocacy, and financial resources to approximately 150 non-profit Jewish overnight summer camps, 70,000 campers, and 10,000 counselors in North America. Philanthropists Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner founded it in 1998 to fill a need they saw for more and better identity-strengthening opportunities for Jewish children.

Fingerman, most recently the founder and managing principal of the consulting and investment advisory firm Clairmont Ventures, will be formally introduced at the foundation’s Leaders Assembly, March 14 to 15 in Jersey City.

In an early Sunday phone interview before going to morning services at Cong. Ahavath Torah, Fingerman talked with The Jewish Standard about the relevancy of his background and interests to his new position.

Jeremy Fingerman of Englewood is the new CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Jewish Standard: Soup and summer camp seem like entirely different businesses. How has your past experience prepared you for the FJC?

Jeremy Fingerman: I hope my experience in branded packaged goods will bring a fresh perspective to the work of the FJC. My discipline, developed over 20-plus years in consumer businesses, is to address the needs of each constituency

The “consumers” in this case are the campers and their families. We must make sure the product offered meets the needs of today. The “retailers” are the counselors and staff that delivers those products and services, and we must make sure they are refreshed and renewed each season. The “distributors” are the boards, administrations, and movement heads, who need to decide on funding, capital expansion, and prioritization.

JS: Where did you go to camp as a kid?

JF: I started at Camp Blue Star in North Carolina for four summers, then to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for four summers. They were truly magical experiences. My parents both attended summer camp in the late ’20s/early ’30s and all of my siblings attended summer camp. My wife attended Camp Interlaken, the JCC camp in Wisconsin. We were in Eagle River during the same summers, but unfortunately didn’t meet until about 15 years later.

JS: Where do your children go to camp?

JF: They have gone to day camp at the JCC and Ma Tov. We are getting ready this year to look into sleep-away camp. We want to send them to the same camp, so I hope one of the advantages of this job will be to help us find one right fit for both of them.

JS: Do they need the Jewish camp experience as much as children who go to public school?

JF: Definitely. I expect that a camp’s immersive, 24/7 Jewish environment would both reinforce what they have learned and provide further joy to their Judaism, besides giving them the time of their lives! I also hope they – like me – will eventually gain the leadership skills that will serve them well both professionally and in their communal activities.

JS: How can parents best narrow the field of choices?

JF: I think you should look at issues of administration and safety. Find a director with a trusted reputation for getting to know and look after each and every child. You want to choose a camp that reinforces the hashkafa [Jewish outlook] you’re trying to establish in your own home, and one that can supply what your children are looking for.

After that, it’s a matter of what your own camp memories are. Sports, for example. I got to try everything, and then explore what I wanted to begin to specialize in after camp. Jewishly, you can apply the same principle to an extent. Most impactful for me was having role models among the staff who set an example in davening [prayer] and Torah learning.

JS: Does the FJC support camps that provide a more cultural than religious Jewish environment?

JF: Yes. But there has to be an Israel component and a Shabbat component in all Jewish camps, even as they cover the gamut of [different approaches to] Judaism.

JS: What other Jewish or civic endeavors are you involved in?

JF: I serve on the board of trustees of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood. I also serve as national vice chairman for the American Friends of Magen David Adom. And I have been active in the Englewood Business Forum, which is helping people expand their networks, develop new businesses, and provide guidance and support during this challenging economic period.

JS: Given the approximate cost of about $1,000 per week for an overnight camper, how is the economy affecting camps and potential campers’ families?

JF: I don’t yet know the specifics, but I’m sure that just as schools and shuls have been tightening their belts, camps are looking at their suppliers and vendors and negotiating harder to save money in non-program areas.

Looking at the demand side, last year the percentage of occupancy of beds among the 150 camps we support was in the high 90s. So, many parents are still sending their children to camp, but maybe for four weeks instead of eight. It could be that camps need to focus more on marketing themselves as a one-month option. This is still a meaningful period of time.

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