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Before we begin our message today, we would like share with you the exciting news that our dear friend, supporter and partner Gordon Diamond was recognized with one of our country’s highest honours yesterday by being appointed Officer of the Order of Canada. Kol hakavod to Gordon, the entire Diamond Family and to the other Order of Canada recipients which you can read here. These recipients represent some of our countries greatest citizens and we know Gordon belongs in this crowd.
As you know from our Shabbat Message a few weeks ago, I’m celebrating five years as CEO and as part of this wonderful community. As kids and parents across our community pack duffle bags and get ready to kiss each other goodbye, we are looking back at an updated version of my very first Shabbat Message about one of the most impactful experiences a Jewish child can have – Jewish summer camp. As I tell people often my experience at summer camp was the defining experiences of my childhood.
A familiar scene played out in parking lots throughout our community a few days ago, with happy tangles of children, families, and madrichim all preparing for the bus ride to camp. What’s in store for these kids – and for all of us - is much more than sunny days at the waterfront, campfires, and new friends.
In my 20’s I spent a year serving on the board of a Jewish camp that sat on the edge of where there was a major forest fire. It was almost like the fire itself stopped short of taking this camp. It reminded me that our camps, in many ways, stand in the way of the fires that encroach upon Jewish life these days, fires like anti-Semitism, apathy and assimilation. Sitting around that table reignited my passion for what Jewish summer camp has to offer these days. The immersive experience of unplugging from the hectic lives our children are experiencing to find out who they are as people is priceless in our pursuit to create the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.
A 2011 study called Camp Works put serious numbers to the increased levels of adult Jewish community engagement. Here are just a few key findings about adults who attended Jewish overnight camp as children. They are:
- 21% more likely to feel being Jewish is very important;
- 37% more likely to always/usually light Shabbat candles; and
- 55% more likely to feel very emotionally connected to Israel.
For some children in our community, summer camp is their only Jewish educational experience. At a time when ties to Jewish life are eroding for many people, camp takes on particular importance when it comes to sustaining our community for the long term. When I look around at the people I serve with in our community, having attended Jewish summer camp is a common thread amongst many of them. I’m a second generation Ramah camper, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized and appreciated the building blocks of Jewish life that I received as a camper. Regardless of whether a child has an average experience or a magical experience at camp, the long-term impact is often profound. While we often focus on the long term benefits of residential camps, there is new research to show that Jewish day camps can produce similar results. Check out this link to learn more about the positive results of Jewish day camp.
Camp is an experience we think every child deserves, but the reality is not everyone can afford it on their own. There’s an old saying that it’s expensive to be Jewish, and on top of that we live in a very expensive city. The affordability of Jewish life is a concern for many of our community members, not just those living in poverty. Many families to fully participate in Jewish life need our help to shoulder the expenses that are part and parcel of Jewish life – camp fees, extracurricular activities, school tuition. These are our friends and our next door neighbours. Between 25% and 30% of campers benefit from camperships. Imagine what camp would be like without those kids. Imagine campers making 25% fewer friendships, enjoying 25% fewer laughs, or having their cabins and canoes 25% empty.
That’s where we come in. More accurately, that’s where you come in, because it’s your campaign gift that helps fund over 125 subsidies for local children to have residential or day camp experiences at Camp Hatikvah, Habonim-Dror Camp Miriam, Camp Solomon Schechter, JCC Camp Shalom, URJ Camp Kalsman, and the Sephardic Adventure Camp.
For the third year in a row, in collaboration with the JCC, we are funding a regional camp initiative. This year the camp will be held in Langley and there will be transportation to the site from the Tri-Cities and Langley areas. As our work increases in these communities, we are connecting with more children and families looking for a Jewish camp experience. To ensure that everyone has access to a Jewish camping experience, the Jewish Community Foundation is funding camperships to JCC Camp Shalom to support campers with diverse abilities. And our Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee through Gesher Chai fund nine madrichim, from Noar Oved youth movement in our partnership region (Galil Eylon), to Camp Miriam.
Breaking down barriers to Jewish life, like affordability and accessibility, are key to creating a more inclusive Jewish community in which everyone feels welcome. Apply that to camperships that increase the diversity of the camp experience and support increased engagement for years to come, and you have a recipe for long-term community sustainability. It’s not the only piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one. When your kids arrive home and come off the bus an inch taller and all suntanned (wait - that’s not dirt, is it?) you really are hugging our community’s future leaders.
Speaking of community, we would like to update you on a major milestone in the fight against antisemitism in Canada. Early this week, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Pablo Rodríguez announced that the Government of Canada’s new anti-racism strategy has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has long advocated for this adoption as it offers a practical tool for authorities to tackle antisemitism. Thank you to our talented staff at CIJA for all their timeless efforts. Please take a moment to recognize the government for this important step here.
Shabbat Shalom and happy Canada Day,
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver