Camp JRF has turned a dream into reality.
In only thirteen summers, we have gone from 39 campers on rented space to more than 400 campers on our own 120-acre Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Campus in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. We have been recognized by the Jewish press as one of the “Top 10 Jewish Camps” and have been embraced within our own movement as a key institution of learning, leadership, and commitment for our youth.
With great success comes great challenge: A number of years ago, Camp reached its residential capacity and, for the first time, had to maintain a waiting list and disappoint a number of youngsters who wanted to be campers. We no longer had enough beds to accommodate every child, and so we had to turn away young Jewish children who wanted to experience the pleasures they’ve heard about from their friends, siblings, and community.
We knew that what a study by Brandeis University showed was true: that Jewish camp works. Camp is the number one transformative activity for Jewish youth; it enhances Jewish continuity more substantially than summer youth programs, more than Jewish day school, even more than trips to Israel. In the words of one of our parents: “It’s all about the people and the friendships, wrapped up in a welcoming, Jewish environment.” With this in mind, we set out to complete the first stage of our Master Plan – expanded living quarters and a revamped style of life, all coming together in a “green” Eco-Village for our teens.
While the Eco-Village focuses on sustainability of the environment, it also looks to the sustainability of Camp; with this new village, we are able to increase our camper capacity and therefore make Camp financially self-sustaining. Doing this in an environmentally-conscious helps to inspire a generation of Jews to live wholeheartedly in two civilizations – and to participate wholeheartedly in the work of saving all civilization.
In an article in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, Executive Director Rabbi Isaac Saposnik said: “Building sustainably and creating community in a variety of ways all fits within our Jewish values of kehillah, community and being kind to the earth.” Working with award-winning firm Metcalfe Architecture & Design, we designed a village that not only allows us to increase our enrollment but to do so in a way that truly lives out our values. After more than four years of planning, the Eco-Village opened in Summer 2014 and is already serving its purpose: it allowed us to increase enrollment by more than 20% over the previous summer and has already become a centerpiece of the Camp experience for teens. From living in the woods to seeing how living “green” can be a viable option, our campers are already reaping the benefits of the village.
Sophia, a fourteen-year-old camper, wrote the following:
The Eco-Village is everything a camper could want. From being a little further away from [the main part of] Camp, this enables us to create our own smaller community within the larger one. Inside the yurt, there is tons of storage space for every camper, leaving a clean and comfortable environment to hang out with my friends. The unique circular shape ensures that no one is closed off from the rest of the cabin. My personal favorite part of the Eco-Village is the bath house. I’m sure I’m not the only that agrees that this is a spectacular building. Like the yurts, the bath house has a lot of storage and an open feel. … Thank you to the donors, the board, and everyone who made the Eco-Village possible and contributed to the everyday Camp experience.
More than 300 individual donors and foundations have already stepped up to make the Eco-Village a reality. Your support now will ensure the village continues to be a centerpiece of the Camp JRF experience and a catalyst for other camps and Jewish organizations to consider building based on their values. In so doing, we can ensure not only the future of the Jewish community but the future of our world.
Please contact Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, Executive Director, at email@example.com / 215-576-0800 x239