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JCC State of Mind – June 14, 2024

Posted by Jason Kunzman, JCC President and CEO on June 14, 2024

Throughout the Jewish world, this week has been filled with active learning in celebration of Shavuot, the late spring pilgrimage festival. Originally celebrated exclusively as a harvest festival 50 days after the beginning of Passover when the wheat crops came in, Shavuot has been transformed over history to include a celebration of coming together to learn and to mark the moment when the Ten Commandments and Torah were given at Mt. Sinai. More than a theological assertion of the importance of scripture, Shavuot marks a moment when all of Israel was CAMPing around Mt. Sinai, focused on learning. They were CAMPing tribe by tribe, each under a banner, as we have displayed above our pool in Squirrel Hill and as many of our EKC bunks mimic in their artistic bunk plaques.

While it all began way back when we were CAMPing around a mountain, we have maintained that same sense of ruach (spirit) and zest for learning at our JCC CAMPs, especially as we begin staff training and provide hundreds of counselors, specialists, unit heads, inclusion coordinators and many more with the tools and techniques they need to make this summer the best summer yet for more than 1,500 campers. Throughout our day and resident camps (EKC, J&R, and South Hills), our staff learning can be described like this:

  • Comprehensive Training Programs: Staff undergo extensive training that covers safety protocols, activity planning and camper engagement techniques. This ensures they are well-prepared to handle a wide variety of situations during the camp day and create an overall positive camp experience.
  • Applied Learning Experiences: We focus on hands-on learning, allowing our staff to practice their skills in real-world scenarios before camp begins. This approach builds their confidence and competence in managing a multitude of camp activities.
  • Focus on Camper Care: Our training emphasizes the importance of emotional and physical well-being. Staff learn strategies to support campers’ mental health, foster inclusivity and create a nurturing environment.
  • Innovation in Activities: We continuously tweak and adjust our programs with new and exciting activities that challenge and entertain campers. This makes the camp experience fresh and engaging and builds aspirational arcs that keep our campers coming back year after year.
  • Feedback and Improvement: We gather feedback from both staff and campers to continuously improve our programs. This iterative process ensures we are meeting the needs and expectations of everyone involved.

Over the last few weeks, leadership and general staff from across our camps have been meeting to further embrace this culture of continuous learning as they prepare to welcome more campers than we have had in over a decade. Staff have explored how to effectively communicate, interact and build partnerships with parents/caregivers and how societal expectations and influences play a role in those interactions. Staff have learned about the various challenges and opportunities associated with supervising seasonal staff and how to get them to “buy-in,” perform and find value and purpose in their work experience. Staff have also engaged in candid conversations about the importance and complexity of Israel education at camp, and how we navigate supporting our camp community during this challenging time for the larger Jewish community. All of this provides greater confidence and transferable skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork, that will benefit our camp staff in any future career they choose to pursue.

And of course, our commitment to learning during Shavuot extends beyond just camp, which is why we partnered once again this past Tuesday evening with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to bring Tikkun Leil Shavuot to hundreds of participants. This late-night study adventure is intended to elevate the receiving of the Torah and enable an active form of community learning.

In all three cases of standing at Sinai, training our staff and participating in the Tikkun, the most important aspect of supporting learning is not just the information provided, but rather the way in which learners are engaged. Similar to our ancestors who so explicitly lived out their love for learning, our camp staff makes learning a part of their everyday routines and our community embraces the opportunity to learn together and to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Wishing you and your families a Shavuot season of active learning and a Shabbat shalom.

Jason

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