NIF Goes to Camp

2 September 2021

NIF’s curriculum Breaking Binaries, Building Connection blends our expertise and experience translating the Israeli reality to American Jewish audiences with expert help in building experiential curriculum around difficult issues. Following the inter-ethnic violence on the ground in Israel in May, we understood that summer camps were in need of materials to help address these issues quickly. We mobilized to provide those materials, which in turn have created new momentum around our camp program.

NIF has gained critical experience over the last four decades connecting American Jews to organizations and people in Israel who are working to build a better future. In 2018, when Jewish Funders Network released the results of a study about Jewish students on college campuses that showed that the most effective way to deal with the increasingly polarized dynamic on campus is to raise the volume on progressive Israeli activism. At NIF, we knew we were well-situated to step up and meet this challenge. Indeed, we believe that exposure to Israeli progressives can begin even before college.

Summer camp is a cornerstone of the American Jewish experience. Unlike Jewish day school enrollment numbers, summer camp attendance continues to grow. According to the Foundation for Jewish Camps, numbers are rising at about 2% each year. Jewish summer camps and served over 82,000 campers in 2017.

After we piloted our camp curriculum in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 shut down our plans, or turned them virtual. Our plans for the summer of 2021 were therefore something of an experiment. While we had already been considering a light-lift offering for camps this summer (understanding that most camp staff were more focused on the logistics required to reopen safely than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), the crisis in Israel in May made us reconsider. When camp staff began reaching out, asking for materials, we were able to quickly pull together a set of three activities that could easily be put into practice at camp this summer.

Now, we are building towards a much broader pilot with a larger and more diverse set of Jewish camps and camp movements. We are also piloting an on-the-ground in Israel component for a global gap year program through Habonim Dror this year as well as working with Hebrew school teachers, day school teachers, and adult education synagogue leaders on non-camp adaptations for the curriculum.

On August 16, Haaretz unpacked the curriculum in a long feature which rightly called it a “[p]ioneering program for U.S. Jewish summer camps, developed by the New Israel Fund, [that] aims to present Israel in all its complex realities to American Jewish teens.” We hope that this curriculum will be useful to Jewish educators, helping them spread a grounded appreciation of Israel, its people and its activists.