Developing partnerships in Midwest Jewish camping

Campers at JCC Camp Chi during their Special Olympics program in the summer of 2016; photo via JUF.

By Julie Finkelstein

With 10 Jewish overnight camps recruiting among the more than 300,000 Jews in the Chicagoland region and Southern Wisconsin, one might think that recruitment season would be spent trying to out-market, out-price, and out-schmooze each other to increase their numbers each year. But the professionals of the Midwest Camp Leadership Network choose to do things differently.

With decades of experience engaging Jewish kids and their families in transformative, immersive Jewish summer experiences, the directors from Beber Camp, Camp Interlaken JCC, Camp Moshava Wild Rose, Camp Nageela Midwest, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Camp Young Judaea Midwest, Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, JCC Camp Chi, JCYS Camp Henry Horner, and URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute see more in each other than just competitors.

From pluralistic to Zionist and Reform to Orthodox, these camps truly represent the breadth and depth of Jewish life today.  Though the camps affiliate with different movements and offer unique programs, collectively, “the shared goal is getting kids to Jewish camp,” said Becky Altman, Director of Beber Camp.

As Rabbi David Soloff, CEO of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and one of the co-chairs of the Midwest Jewish Camp Directors group, puts it, “Collaboration has taken away the sense of internal competition between our camps, and instead elevates the entire field, allowing camps to focus on best practices in many areas.”

For many years the Midwest Jewish Camp Directors group included only the senior leadership of each camp. Fifteen years ago, the group began meeting three times a year to network and address common challenges and opportunities for Jewish camping in the region. Last year, with the help of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and a local donor, the Midwest Camp Leadership Network (MCLN) was established to further expand the impact of the group’s collaboration and provides a framework for the group. MCLN is designed to include all members of the 10 camps’ year-round professional teams in shared professional training programs.

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