By Isaac Saposnik

In the Midrash, we learn that people are known by three names: one given by our parents, one used by other people, and one that we acquire for ourselves. We are taught that this last one – the name we acquire for ourselves – is best.

When the Reconstructionist movement opened its first summer camp in 2002, it was given a name by its parent organization: the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation opened Camp JRF. Through the years, the name remained even as the movement structure changed. And over the course of fifteen summers, we found that more and more members of the extended Jewish community came to know our name.

Yet here we are, at the beginning of this new year, and we’ve changed our name. Why? Because, quite simply, the old one didn’t really share with the world what makes us, us. It spoke of our history, but not of our future. And it missed an opportunity to lead with our core values as we looked to grow and strengthen our organization.

With thanks to guidance from Project Accelerate and the generosity of some of our most stalwart supporters, we began a year-long process by looking closely at our key messaging and communications strategy. What is it that we most wanted people to know about us? Working with an incredible team from Big Duck, a firm that builds strong brands, campaigns, and teams for nonprofit organizations, we came to the following:

We are all about the joy of summer camp with the freedom to be who you truly are. In our incredibly diverse and accepting community, all kids—no matter their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, or Jewish background—are more than welcomed. They’re celebrated!

We’re a Reconstructionist community where campers are encouraged to explore traditions and today’s world to discover what being Jewish means to them. Their different experiences and perspectives are a big part of what makes our camp so amazing.

With this statement in hand, and having just been accepted into the Foundation for Jewish Camp Specialty Camps Incubator, it became clearer and clearer that the time for a new name had arrived. When we sat down to begin thinking about potential names, we had a lot on our mind:

  • The name had to work for our current campers, staff, and families, as well as our alumni, donors, and friends. And it also had to work for potential campers and families now and in the future.
  • With a new arts-focused camp set to open in summer 2018, we needed a name that could grow with us as we look to reach out to different communities across North America.
  • While some long-time supporters suggested keeping JRF and changing what it stands for (“Just Really Fun” and “Jewish Reconstructionist Future” were among my favorites), we ultimately decided that we wanted to move away from an acronym that has lost its original meaning.
  • We could choose a name in Hebrew, so long as it was easy enough to pronounce. That meant no guttural letters!
  • The name couldn’t be used by other camps or similar programs, or by organizations that might have significantly different values from ours.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we wanted a name that would tell people who we are and “how we be.” This meant finding something that showcased our values, felt like us, and helped us stand out from the crowd.

The brainstorming process was fun and, at times, nerve-wracking. (What if we made the wrong choice?) We asked various stakeholders for input and ideas and talked also with our board and with leadership of the Reconstructionist movement. We came up with all sorts of wild ideas – some of which led to really interesting conversations and thought processes. (And some of which gave us a good laugh!) At every step along the way, we came back to the communications strategy and the question of whether the name would help us get that message out into the world.

After much work, we came to a name that excited all of us – Camp Havaya. When we shared this with our camp community, here’s some of what we said:

In Hebrew, “havaya” (with an ‘h’ sound at the beginning) means “being.” A name is central to an organization’s identity and choosing this particular name serves as a powerful statement that, at our core, we’re all about creating an environment where kids have the freedom to be who they truly are. We love that it’s a play on “how we be”; on the Hebrew word “khavaya” (with a ‘kh’ sound at the beginning), which means “experience”; and on the Hebrew word “hoveh / the present time,” reminding us that being our best selves isn’t something we aspire to in the future – it’s something we do right now. Over the last number of years, “how we be” has brought this to life … and now so does our new name.

(The rabbi and educator in me also got excited by some of the other textual connections: the similar letters in havaya and the unspeakable name of God (HVYH vs. YHVH) and that, at the burning bush, God says God’s name is “I will be what I will be,” which uses the future tense of the same root as havaya. Oh, the fun!)

While change is never easy, the response we’ve received for the new name has been overwhelmingly positive. One of our supporters put it best: “I like the new name … and most important I like that it was the process of understanding your core values that brought you to this place.”

As the Midrash says: best is the name we acquire for ourselves. This past summer, when we talked with our campers about the new name and the process that got us to this point, they asked all sorts of questions, from how it would impact the camp song to whether there would be new t-shirts. But my favorite question was from a camper who asked how the new name would change the camp experience. With a smile, I said to him simply: it won’t. This new name changes nothing about who we are deep down – it just helps us share that inner beauty with the world.

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik is executive director of Camp Havaya and Havaya Arts.