December 14, 2018

Reconstructionist summer camp will feature the arts

The Reconstructionist movement is planning for a sunny future with the launch of a summer camp in the Los Angeles area.

An overnight camp focused on the arts is set to open in the summer of 2018, thanks in part to a $1.4 million grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).

Camp JRF — which originally stood for Jewish Reconstructionist Federation — will be the Reconstructionist movement’s second. Its first, in northeast Pennsylvania, was founded 15 years ago.

“It’s an amazing camp,” Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said during an interview at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades. “There’s no way you can’t feel optimistic about the Jewish future when you go to this camp.”

A major reason for a second camp is the Reconstructionist movement’s strong presence on the West Coast.

“By opening in Southern California, the new camp will be within a few hours’ drive of three of the largest congregations affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement,” its website says.

Movement leaders are scouting for a location “within a two-hour radius of Los Angeles,” Waxman said.

Waxman is based in Pennsylvania. When she became the leader of the movement in 2013, she also became the first woman rabbi “to head a Jewish congregational union and lead a Jewish seminary,” according to the website of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which also said she “was key in the successful integration of the rabbinical college and the congregational union.” She was named to the Forward 50 list of America’s most influential Jews in 2015.

The camp is planned as a “film- and arts-based specialty camp” for children in the third to 10th grades, according to the movement’s website,

“We really want to take advantage of folks who have a background in the entertainment industry, many of them here [at Kehillat Israel] or at our affiliated congregation in Malibu [Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue],” Waxman said. “So we want both to draw from the greater L.A. area and to ask folks to drive out and teach for a day or a couple of days, and for it to be a reasonable commuting distance.”

According to the American Camp Association, specialty camps are a growing trend.

FJC awarded the grant as part of its specialty camps incubator, one of six camps under development and financed, in part, from a grant of more than $12 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Avi Chai Foundation.

The grant was provided with the expectation that the camp will be self-sufficient by its third year, Waxman said, adding that FJC preferred renting a location, rather than purchasing one, to avoid “a burden of capital.”

Meanwhile, FJC is interested in pursuing specialty camps because they have “proved to be a huge success for Jewish camp,” Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of FJC, said in a statement, adding that research shows “the specialty model attracts new campers — 66 percent said they only went to Jewish camp because they were attracted to one of the specialties.”

The camp will offer one-week or two-week sessions to campers who have an expertise in the performing arts and those who want to “deepen it, and also some beginners … who want to learn about acting or learn about filmmaking from the beginning,” Waxman said. There also may be a day-camp component to it, she said.

The Reconstructionist movement, the smallest of the four major Jewish denominations, was founded on the teachings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative movement. The Reconstructionist movement takes a progressive stance on interfaith marriages — its seminary generated buzz in 2015 when it announced it would ordain rabbis married to non-Jews — embraces the LGBT community and is vocal on political issues. The Reconstructionist website features statements expressing concern about the election of President Donald Trump, for example.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) is the former name of the congregational arm of the movement before a 2012 merger between the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s seminary in Wyncote, Pa., and the JRF. n