‘Giving what you can to a place you love and trust’

‘Giving what you can to a place you love and trust’

Paula Gottesman and her family foundation donate $2 million to NJY Camps

Above and below, campers enjoy themselves at NJY camps.
Above and below, campers enjoy themselves at NJY camps.

It’s easy to romanticize summer camps, but in fact that what summer camps in general — and Jewish summer camps in particular — provide to campers and young staffers is genuinely profound and often transformative.

For the last century or so, Jewish institutions have provided Jewish children with the opportunity to live fully Jewish lives for at least a few summer weeks. At first, camp provided a respite from crowded, not particularly sane or sanitary city streets, as immigrant parents scratched for ways to make life better for their children.

That was then.

Paula Gottesman

Now, all camps have spent the last decade or so helping kids battle increasing levels of anxiety and depression, freeing them from their screens and the dangers of unfiltered access to often-toxic social media. More recently, they’ve had to deal with a summer lost to covid, and then another few summers trying to undo the damage that necessary but harmful social isolation had caused. This year, the horrors of October 7 and the antisemitism the barbarism unleashed has made camp even more of a refuge for the young Jews it serves.

In response, camp enrollment in general is up. That’s very good — and expensive.

That’s why the gift to NJY Camps from Paula Gottesman and the Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation, which always would have been massively generous, is even more welcome than ever.

Ms. Gottesman has pledged up to $2 million to the NJY Camps. “The Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation will provide a 1:1 match for gifts of pledges of $50,000 or more,” the camps’ statement says. “Contributions under $50,000 will be matched 1:2, encouraging widespread participation from all levels of donors.”

“Paula Gottesman made that investment in Jewish camping in general, and to the New Jersey Y Camps in particular, because she is an extraordinary human being,” the camps’ CEO, Michael Schlank, said.

“It is an acknowledgement of the work that we do.

“Paula came to camp last summer, and spent time with the camp directors, and with the kids and counselors. Paula and the Gottesman family have been important philanthropists in the American Jewish community for a long time.

Paula and her late husband, Jerry, endowed the Day School Initiative through their federation, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. That initiative keeps day school tuition manageable for middle-income families, and it defines middle-income generously. In fact, the entire initiative is extraordinarily generous.

“The time that Paula has spent with us as a partner, thinking about the future, is vital to the future,” Mr. Schlank said.

“It is very clear that if you look at the gifts you see an investment in Jewish continuity, in Zionism, in our work in ensuring that the next generation of children will grow up to love and embrace Israel and their Jewish heritage, culture, and identity,” he continued. “It is very clear that actions speak louder than words. It’s about sustainability. It’s about the camps continuing to thrive as we go forward.” The covid period was not good for the camps’ finances; “this gift allows us to put our financial house in order, to clear up debt, and to continue to assure that this is an agency that will continue to do good work 100 years from now.”

One hundred years is a very long time, but given that the first New Jersey Y camp opened in 1920, as a camp for boys in Bear Mountain State Park in New York, it’s not unreasonable to think in century-long increments.

As often happens in philanthropy, donations grow out of relationships.

“Paula has developed a relationship with our board president, Stacie Friedman, our immediate past president, Suzanne Albin Tucker, and with Steve Seiden, the president before her,” Mr. Schlank said. She’s also developed strong relationships with professional leaders — with me, and with Will Eastman, our chief development officer. They have developed a close partnership and friendship, and Will was key in this gift.”

Ms. Gottesman’s contribution will help the camps deal with trauma in Israel and work to help with needs at home.

This summer, camps have to deal with October 7 and the fallout. “It was a stark reminder for us about the reach we have,” Mr. Schlank said. “We have one camper, Liri Albag, and one former staff member, Sagui Dekel-Chen, who are hostages.” Liri was captured at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Traces of her blood were found in a child’s room in Gaza; from information they’ve gathered from released hostages, Israeli experts believe that she’s been held in tunnels, starved, and treated as a domestic slave. Sagui, an Israeli-American who grew up in Bloomfield, was taken by terrorists as he tried to protect his pregnant wife and two small children at Kibbutz Nir Oz. His third child has been born during his captivity.

“We were just in Israel a few weeks ago, and we sponsored a get-together for about 40 staff members in Israel,” Mr. Schlank continued. “ All of them had just come from serving in the army in some way or other.

“We think that probably about 1,000 or so former campers or staff members have served in the IDF.

“And on the American side, what Paula did is demonstrate what it means to invest in Jewish continuity and Jewish peoplehood. Giving what you can, to a place you love and trust — that’s really what this is all about.”

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