LATE AFTERNOON SUN on a sparkling lake, arms sore from paddling a canoe, and the smell of sunscreen mixed with sweat and dirt. Havdallah around a campfire, the spice box passed from person to person, arms around each other and singing “Shavua Tov” (“A Good Week”).
While the settings and the people may differ, the experience of Jewish summer camp is a familiar one to so many American Jews. In fact, over 60,000 Jewish children are expected to attend Jewish camps this summer. Since the rise of the organized camping movement in America in the 1920s and through the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, Jewish camps have become part of the fabric of Jewish life in North America. And they’re an extraordinary Jewish socializing experience, building connections to our culture and communities that can last a lifetime.
However, while you may be writing letters to your kids or grandchildren at camp this summer, many in our community are not able to participate in this seminal Jewish experience. Giving a child an immersive Jewish life is an expensive proposition. In addition to camp, many of you want your sons and daughters or grandchildren to attend religious school, to learn about their Jewish heritage, to become leaders through Jewish teen programs, and to have life-changing experiences in Israel and Jewish communities around the world. It adds up, even for families who have decent incomes.
That’s where Jewish Federation & Family Services Passport to Jewish Life® grants come into play. Like passports used by travelers, JFFS “Passports” are grants that open the door to meaningful and exciting Jewish experiences for OC youth. Our Passport partnership with families and program providers ensures participation in Jewish programs for some 200 students each year.
Yet, as helpful as Passport to Jewish Life® has been to local youth, at present there is a narrow pool of funds for the program. Grants are also limited depending upon the type of program for which a student applies and there is a lifetime cap on eligibility. So, we are succeeding as a community in opening the door to an extraordinary Jewish experience and turning the light on for curious young minds – but we can’t promise to do it year after year.
I wonder how many children and teens we may have missed sending to camp this summer. I envision a time in our future when we will make opportunities like camp possible for as many times as a student wants to participate. Imagine if Jewish youth in Orange County could have unlimited opportunities for Jewish learning and Jewish engagement. Can you see a bright future for Jewish Orange County, a future when all who hope to go camp, participate in JCC Maccabi Games® & ArtsFest®, or experience other Jewish programs can do so? This could be the ultimate gift to the next generation: to enable our Jewish youth to strengthen their Jewish identity, deepen knowledge, and become inspired to be leaders.
This is where you can help. We need support from our community to not only sustain this program but to grow it. We need to realize the vision of a future in Jewish Orange County where there is opportunity for all. Together, we can do the extraordinary.
To support Passport to Jewish Life® and Jewish experiences for OC youth by making a designated gift to the program, visit JewishOC.org/Donate2Passport or call (949) 435-3484.
Learn more about program eligibility and the application process at JewishOC.org/Passport. Please note: while our summer program grant application cycle has closed, deadlines for fall programs are detailed.