Over the course of the last two weeks, the major Jewish summer camps have announced that their camps were either not going operate this summer, or would operate dramatically differently than everyone hoped. That doesn’t just mean a summer away from camp for the kids and staff, but it also means a significant – and potentially fatal – strain on budgets.
Minneapolis Jewish Federation saw camps closing as a possibility at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, and started planning. That result was the $1 million COVID-19 Summer Camp Fund, which is open to area summer camps that serve Minneapolis campers. The fund will provide immediate assistance to camps that closed their summer programming and face significant cash-flow needs.
“Very early on in the process, we identified a looming problem if camp was canceled,” said Minneapolis Jewish Federation CEO Jim Cohen. The fund is separate from the $2.36 million MJF initially made available locally and globally. “In our strategic plan, camp and our support of it is called out in a major way. Given the role it has in our community we can’t allow camp to disappear. We have to do what we can so they can open in 2021.”
The fund was divided up so that 2/3 went to overnight camps and 1/3 went to day camps. The amount each camp received is based on the percentage of campers from what MJF has termed its “catchment area” (Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs.) The six camps that received funds are: Herzl Camp, OSRUI, Ramah-Wisconsin, Camp TEKO, Camp Olami, and Camp Butwin.
Cohen called giving Camp Butwin – the day camp of the St. Paul JCC – funding one of the more important parts of the process.
“It’s a St. Paul institution, but we did recognize the large concentration of Minneapolis families that use the camp – and it’s a feeder to the overnight camps we hold dear,” Cohen said.
Said Sabes and St. Paul JCC’s CEO Michael Waldman: “The Minneapolis Jewish Federation has shown tremendous leadership during this crisis. There is no doubt that the decision to include Camp Butwin in their grant-making (in addition to Camp Olami) was made with serious deliberation and consideration. For the JCCs it serves as another indication that we are at our best when we act as a united Jewish community.”
Cohen thanked Scott Tankenoff for his work on the task force that pulled this plan around camps together. Tankenoff, who has some level of family involvement at all camps receiving funding, said that in a communal context the camp relief fund is incredibly important.
“Parents, kids, donors, staff are all devastated,” he said. “When you have an organization like a camp that is part of the community and culture, everyone feels ownership and belonging, no matter your standing.”
Tankenoff also credited a number of Twin Cities clergy members for their support of camp, and how important camp is to Jewish identity.
“Camping means hope, and at a time where there is uncertainty, hope is important. Kids that go to camp get into a setting that’s nurturing, and educational, and offers personal growth. It helps them identify with a part of ‘who am I?’ Whether a [Taste of Herzl camper] or staff at Ramah, that’s what matters. That’s why I think this was so important.”
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