As I look out over tonight’s crowd, I’m proud – proud of all of you, proud of the URJ’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp, and proud to oversee an institution so vital to Reform Judaism in the South. In addition to recruiting and working with a staff of 150 and managing an annual budget of close to $3 million, I am entrusted with the health and well-being of more than 500 of your kids every summer. On a personal note, all of this makes me incredibly proud and positive about who I am and the life my husband, Nadav, and I are living.
Things weren’t always this way, however.
Before I came through the gates of Jacobs, what I just described to you would have seemed totally improbable, but that type of transformation is precisely the power of Jacobs Camp.
You see, I grew up in Dothan, AL, the daughter of Jack and Barbara Blumenfeld. I’m proud to be from Dothan, but a booming Jewish metropolis it is not! I was one of only five kids in our temple’s Sunday school, and I was proud to know everyone in our community, a place where, anytime something was needed, we all drove over, rolled up our sleeves, and dove right in.
When we take time to actually connect with others, the power that results is amazing. I think of my rabbi, for example, who took time to see me – to really see me – and to tell my parents they should send me to a Jewish summer camp in Mississippi.
Insert a phone call from Macy here, then fast forward to my first day of camp.
I absolutely could not believe that all the kids on the upper athletic field were Jewish. “They have got to be actors,” I told myself.
Like me, I know that you, too, have stories of connecting to camp – and the people who helped get you there. And like me, I imagine that for many of you, camp was the first time you felt you could truly be yourself. It was the first time you felt like you belonged, and maybe you, too, met your best friends at camp.
It’s the place where I loved doing nothing and everything and laughing for hours about God-knows-what! Camp gave me the courage to go out into the world, and later in life, on a visit back, camp gave me my husband, Nadav. Some of y’all might know him as that really quiet Israeli guy.
I share my story not because I think it is exceptional, but, in fact, because I know stories like mine are extremely common. Although individually camp has a different meaning to each of us, collectively, its meaning is unbelievably important to all of us.
Back when I was young, camp was truly the best and most important thing in my life; today, I can safely say that camp is more important than ever.
Especially in today’s world, kids need camp. Our campers need a break from their screens and from the pressures of their everyday lives. They need to step away from the world and into the Jacobs bubble. They need the fun of camp, the love of camp, the “Jacobs Magic.” Most of all, they need to be kids…Jewish kids.
Camp instills values – kindness, gratitude, teamwork, understanding. Living as a community, we learn to respect each other, other people, other cultures. Jacobs Camp, specifically, shapes our children, giving them experiences and confidence to be active Jewish community members in high school, in college, and when they start their families. Our campers grow to be leaders in their communities – their Jewish communities and their communities at-large.
As you spend this weekend with us, I hope you’ll reconnect with camp friends and with camp itself. I hope, too, that you will be reminded of the effect it’s had on your life and on your children’s lives – and that you will contribute to creating another 50 years of deep south Jewish joy and influence on young lives.
To do this work, we need your support for it’s you who truly make the Jacobs Magic possible.
The rest of us – the year-round team, the summer team, and I – work for you and the kids in this region, striving to build the next – the best – generation of Jewish leaders in the deep south, leaders who are strong, motivated, qualified, kind, respectful, and more.
In the beginning, it wasn’t a single mega-donor who made Jacobs Camp possible. No, it was each and every family and each and every congregation pooling their financial means to realize the dream of a Jewish summer home for kids in this region. That’s the story of how this miracle camp, Jacobs Camp, came to be. And what a story these last 50 years have been!
Under Macy Hart’s leadership, camp grew to be a staple in our region, that safe space – as the kids today say – for all of us in this room. When JC took over, he ushered in more formal programming and continued to make camp a safe haven for everyone in our community. Today, our team continues to look for ways to bring our camp community even closer, even as we expand our footprint in a competitive summer activity marketplace.
As in the beginning, we rely on everyone to do their fair share. It is the generosity of our community that makes Jewish camping a reality for every child in our region – and beyond. When you donate to camp, you are not just sending money to an organization, you are making possible:
- A bike that kids use to conquer their fears
- A set of watercolors that help kids express their creativity
- A prayer book that brings out kids’ passion and spirituality for our shared faith
- An unforgettable summer for kids in need
- A lifetime of Jewish commitment and learning to children from the deep south
I have to say that as I look around, it’s great to have so many great people, all of whom are touched by camp, together: those who are our steady supporters together with parents who I see at drop-off each summer and during visits around the region each year, as well as faces I haven’t seen in years and others I’m meeting for the first time. I look forward to getting to know y’all better and hope the rest of you know that camp is their home, too. Without all you and those who came before you, my story, your stories, our story would be wildly different than the reality of who we are and the lives we’ve built.
My own Jacobs story continues to amaze me. Although I know my mom, Barbara Rainbow Blumenfeld, of blessed memory, would say, “Of course this is what you are doing in life,” I never could have imagined that the same shy, uncomfortable 12-year-old she and my dad dropped off here in Utica, MS, so many summers go is now leading the most important Jewish institution in the world.
That is the power of Jacobs Camp – and I hope that through your generosity, you will ensure that the next generation of the deep south’s Jewish leaders will write our Jacobs story.
Please consider making a donation to the Jacobs Magic Fund here.
This blog post is adapted from remarks delivered by Anna Herman, director of URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary celebration.