Jewish ‘camperships’ still available
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Jewish ‘camperships’ still available

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Arts and crafts can take on a Jewish flavor at a Jewish camp. Barbara Grover

A summer steeped in Judaism is in the cards for close to 50 children in North Jersey, thanks to $1,000 stipends offered to families of campers who had never experienced Jewish overnight camp before.

The Campership Incentive Program is an initiative of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which provides information about, and advocacy for, more than 160 non-profit Jewish overnight camps across North America.

Started four years ago in the greater Chicago area, the stipend program was expanded to North Jersey through the efforts of Julie Eisen of Upper Saddle River, who is active in both FJC and the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“There’s always a choice of where to go to camp, and we hope these stipends will encourage people to make a Jewish choice, especially this year with the impact of the economy,” said Eisen.

The agency agreed to match FJC funds for the program, as well as publicize and administer it. Since its launch just after Passover, 48 of the available stipends already have been granted.

Frieda Huberman, director of school services for UJA-NNJ, said applications are still being accepted after deadline because additional money has arrived from FJC because of the excellent response.

“We feel strongly that camp inspires a lifetime commitment to the Jewish people, and that every Jewish child deserves to have an unparalleled and enduring summer camp experience,” said Jerry Silverman, CEO of the foundation. “The UJA-NNJ projected that 30 children from the Northern New Jersey area would receive grants this year but that number has been exceeded.”

In order to be approved, applicants must be first-time campers planning to attend a not-for-profit Jewish overnight camp of at least three weeks’ duration (a list is available at jewishcamp.org). Tuition for such programs ranges from about $3,000 to $6,000.

“This is a nationwide program with federations all over country as well as Jewish Funders Network – wherever we can find a partner to join in this initiative to send first-time campers to Jewish camps,” said Eisen.

He cited research indicating that a Jewish camp summer exerts a powerful influence on a child’s future.

“Living in a Jewish setting 24/7, with role models of Jewish counselors, lets these children test themselves in Jewish waters and come away with a sense of joy and pleasure in Jewish life,” said Eisen. “You make lifelong friends there, and you are immersed in a totally positive Jewish experience. It gets Judaism out of your head and into your heart.”

Huberman said applicants have reflected the diversity of the UJA-NNJ catchment area of approximately 100,000 people in Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson counties.

“We’ve heard from families in Ho-Ho-Kus to Rutherford, Oakland to Closter,” she said. “Some would have sent their child to a Jewish camp anyway, but for others this stipend was the tipping point in their decision.”

The majority of the applicants are not Orthodox, she added. The camps they plan to attend range from Kinderland – a camp run by the secular Workmen’s Circle – to Ramah, the summer-camp program of the Conservative movement.

“What binds all these camps together is the Jewish immersion experience,” said Huberman, herself a Ramah alumna. “They all integrate Jewish living in the natural flow of the camp day. The bottom line is that Jewish camps make Jews. Adults who’ve had a Jewish camp experience are much more likely to be involved in Jewish life as adults.”

For more information or an application, call (201) 820-3913 or e-mail FriedaH@ujannj.org.

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