As I write this article, I was thinking about what I wrote for the first Lion’s Roar when I started in 1998 as the Camp Director. I do not know, but I recall that we were one of the first organizations to do monthly newsletters via email in 1999. We were almost ahead of the times back then. If I look back and think about CYJ, it has not changed much for the campers. Yes, we have grown from 328 campers to almost 700 campers, and our facilities are much better. We still do not use electronics. Where else can your children be away from electronics for 24 days? That is so healthy for our chanichim to understand that they can engage more with people by talking than a Wordle.
The camp program has not changed dramatically. It is still active and fun while we still teach about Israel and Judaism. We also observe Jewish traditions like keeping Kosher and Shabbat. What stands out to me is chanichim (campers) loving to sing the Birkat Hamazon after each meal, lighting Shabbat candles, doing t’fillot (prayers) together as a community, or simply saying motzi before a meal.
The future looks GREAT. We have had a surge in enrollment. Our Early Bird ends on September 7 for returning families, and then we will start enrolling new campers if space permits (HINT: if you have not registered yet, do it now!). We have a new Camp Director (Mac Lindner) who made a significant impact on camp this past summer. We are also growing and adding a new position of Teen Engagement Coordinator (Welcome to Barak Levy!) to the team. Our Retreat Center has record reservations and is starting to attract corporate groups. The addition of the Retreat Village has made this possible.
My role has changed to focus on our future now. That means more of my time focused on strategic planning, fundraising, community engagement, and board development. When I started, I came into this job with little experience and learned a lot along the way. What has not changed and will only grow is the number of people who love CYJ and will help me and CYJ become the best Jewish camp in the world. Sounds grand, maybe, but let’s set a goal to be the best!
What unites us is we are building good Jewish leaders one bunk at a time. It’s no small thing to say that our community’s future leaders will have spent time at CYJ. As a friend of mine once quipped, if you want to give your children a Jewish background, give them a Jewish playground. That’s CYJ!