More than 70,000 Jewish kids will go to camp this summer, against the backdrop of a major economic crisis, a swine flue pandemic and growing security concerns. Jerry Silverman is CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which serves the interests of 150 nonprofit sleepaway camps across North America. A native of Tulsa, Okla., Silverman, 50, has a background in the apparel industry, but fell in love with Jewish camping through his five children. He spoke to N.Y. Minute about the challenges facing modern Jewish camps.
Q: How many families have sought scholarships for camp this year?
A: Most camps have doubled or tripled their scholarship commitment. A large percentage of camps have done an outstanding job of working to put families on
scholarships and payment plans, doing everything possible to make sure any child can get to camp. There are very few people who are not going to camp who really want to, because camps have been working on it night and day and diligently raising money.
Are camps scaling down enrollment or cutting programs?
Absolutely not. Most camps have held flat as far as the number of campers and they have done a miraculous job.
Why does the Jewish community view camp as so essential to continuity?
Jewish summer camp is an experience that enables children and staff members to celebrate Jewish identity.
At least two Jewish camps have already dealt with swine flu outbreaks this year. How can they prepare for this?
We have an expert who has been working with camps on this, Rabbi Eve Rudin. The camps are handling it beautifully, talking to each other and learning from each other. We convened a panel to share with everyone what the Centers for Disease Control is recommending and they are very clear as to what the state health departments are communicating.
Security must also be a major concern.
Post 9/11, camps did an inordinate amount of work looking at processes and security protocols, and they are very tight. So I think most camps, post what happened [last month] in Washington [at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum] went back and made sure they met expectations against their plans.
Are camps finding it difficult to ask today’s kids to withdraw from texting, e-mail, video chats and Facebook for weeks at a time?
Almost all Jewish camps are unplugged and campers and staff are so happy to be together, seeing their friends that they haven’t been with for a whole year, that they just want to be with them.
Did you go to camp?
I went for a very short time to Camp Stone in Pennsylvania.
What are your best memories?
The friends I made. But my influence from Jewish camp came through our five children, and I remember picking up our eldest daughter, who was crying and having to peel her away from 12 other girls, and her giving us a countdown of the days to next summer. My brother [Alan] was also an influence. He’s the director of Camp Moshava and this is his 22nd summer.