Recognizing that overnight camp and Israel trips are two proven ways to connect young people to the Jewish experience, Jewish Louisville is about to ramp up its support to families interested in having their kids do both.
The Jewish Federation of Louisville and Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE) have announced a “partnership” through which they will make significantly more financial assistance available to kids through the Federation’s One Happy Camper (OHC) program and to teens interested in a Passport to Israel grant.
“This is a big, bold step by the JHFE,” said Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville, which is implementing the partnership. (JHFE is financing it.)
To run it, Wagner announced that the Federation will soon have a new staff member, Shannon Rothschild, who will begin serving on Oct. 2 as a liaison to families, synagogues, camps and Israel travel programs. She will answer questions, make connections and help more kids take advantage of the assistance.
The Federation has been providing both needs-based scholarships and OHC incentives for first-time overnight campers for several years, but now incentives are greater. Under the new partnership, all kids who apply for a first year OHC grant will receive $2,500 in 2020. Campers must identify as Jewish, go to an approved camp and be under age 18.
Up to $2,000 of assistance will be available for second-year campers in 2020 and up to $1,500 for third year campers starting in 2021.
In other words, some campers could receive as much as $6,000 in grant money over a three-year period.
For the Passport to Israel, young Jews, ages 16-24, taking their first “organized Israel trip,” will be eligible for up to $4,000 in travel grants. Second-time travelers are eligible for $1,000 in grants.
Needs-based assistance will remain available for both camp and Israel through a variety of funding, including Federation, donor funds and the JHFE, and can be applied for in addition to OHC and Passport to Israel grants.
All told, the JHFE will allocate up to $252,000 for 2020 to widely grow and expand the number of participants for overnight camping and Israel, according to Program Officer Jaime Schwartz.
For now, JHFE Director Jeff Polson said his board plans to support the partnership indefinitely.
“We are looking at this for the next several years,” Polson said. “We really do view this as identity building for the young people in our community.”
Wagner said the new initiative will create a platform to increase outreach to all young families.
“This is great news for summer of 2020,” she said, “but this is also for newborns and toddlers who will have great opportunities growing up in Jewish Louisville.”
She believes the “enthusiasm” generated will spill over to other Jewish year-round activities.
The Federation and JHFE have been partnering intensively on this initiative since April but talks, which included discussions with synagogue leaders, about increasing resources available for camping and Israel have been going on much longer than that.
The impact of camp and Israel on Jewish identity has been known for some time. A 2011 study by the Foundation for Jewish Camp found that camp alumni are:
- 21 percent more likely to feel that being Jewish is very important;
- 45 percent more likely to attend a synagogue at least once a month;
- 37 percent more likely to regularly light Shabbat candles;
- 30 percent more likely to donate to a federation;
- 25 percent more likely to donate to a Jewish charity; and
- 55 percent more likely to feel “very emotionally attached to Israel.”
As for Israel trips, Birthright, which provides free trips to Israel for young people ages 18 to 32, has sent over 700,000 participants since its inception in 1999. And most Jewish camps have an Israel component, including an Israel summer for teens.
Eric Goodman, a JHFE board member who is chairing its Jewish youth engagement committee, said he researched the idea, taking part in conference calls with other cities that initiated similar efforts.
“The idea being,” he said, “that the JHFE should focus on Jewish children and teenagers and make sure they all have access to formal and informal Jewish education – identity forming experiences.”