When you were a kid, did you ever play that game with two pictures, side by side, where you were supposed to spot the differences? Well, I have more than just two pictures for you, but a different game to play. Below are five pictures, all from this summer. I’m not asking you to spot the differences, however. What I want to know is whether you can tell where these pictures were taken.
They are from five different JCC day camps, all connected by the support of your Annual UJA Campaign gift. All are housed on the grounds of the particular JCC where the photos were shot, and all of those JCCs (well, I will give you a hint, one of them is actually a YM-YWHA) are at the very heart of a vibrant Jewish community, with programming for children, teens, parents, people with special needs, and seniors.
Okay, you may have your own guesses — see if you were correct. From top to bottom, they are: YM-YWHA, JCC of Central NJ, Ramat Eliyahu, JCC MetroWest Camp Deeny Riback, Minsk JCC.
One of the greatest privileges I have had in my life is to travel the Jewish world. And I am always struck by how, no matter how far from home I go, I find that the Jewish values of community — of peoplehood — are always there, right in front of me. So it was on my trip to Minsk and Israel this summer, as part of Jewish Federations of North America’s annual mission for campaign chairs and campaign directors.
And this year, it was the similar nature of the vital part played by JCCs (and YM-YWHAs) from West Orange to Scotch Plains to Union to Minsk to Ramat Eliyahu that struck me. All of the day camps in these pictures are not just a place to send your children to keep them occupied. They inculcate Jewish values, make being Jewish an everyday part of these kids’ identities, and celebrate being Jewish.
And for the two JCCs and the YM-YWHA physically located here in Greater MetroWest, the camps located at their facilities are just the tip of the iceberg.
At JCC MetroWest, Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders is the primary venture with more than 400 campers. It is one of four summer experiences for children offered at JCC MetroWest: the Early Childhood Camp has more than 200 children; Exploration Camp has 100+; and Triple Threat Theater Camp serves approximately 40 children each summer. Children with special needs are welcome and attend all of JCC MetroWest’s camps.
Over in Scotch Plains, the JCC of Central New Jersey operates Camp Yachad. This summer there are a total 860 campers ages 18 months to 14 years old. The camp operates on four sites: the traditional day camp out of the JCC in Scotch Plains, travel camp from its Springfield site, Maccabi sports camp in Edison, and the Summer Academy for Performing Arts in Scotch Plains. There is a special needs inclusion program, where 28 children enjoyed camp this summer with the help of dedicated “shadow” counselors and a summer program coordinator.
The YM-YWHA of Union, affectionately known as the Green Lane Y, also runs multiple day camps. There is Camp Chaverim, which serves traditionally observant families and their children, 205 in total; Mini-Camp for ages 2 1/2-5, with 50 preschoolers; Camp Kinneret, an Israeli-themed program with 70 campers; Teen Get-A-Way, with 35 teens; and the Y-HO-CA division with 60 campers from all backgrounds.
Now here’s another amazing thing about the day camps on this side of the Greater MetroWest world — they all have Israeli shlichim (envoys) as counselors — a total of 10 Israelis to help make the connection across the living bridge between New Jersey and Israel (and who will certainly be affected by the campers as well!)
The JCC in Minsk — and that I can even write a sentence that starts with “the JCC in Minsk” is nothing short of miraculous — bustles with the same multi-generational beehive of activity that you see on this side of the ocean. In addition to the day camp, there is a Mazel Tov program for parents and small children. There are cultural activities for seniors, including an Israel folk dance troupe and a choir. There is a leadership training program for high school kids, which is producing the next generation of Jewish visionaries, who see a real Jewish future for themselves and their community in Minsk.
The day camp at the Ramat Eliyahu Matnas (which is Hebrew for JCC) is a familiar place for anyone who has been to, or will visit, our oldest partnership community of Rishon LeZion. There are familiar names on the walls, the playground, and the swimming pool, from generous donors on one side of the ocean who want Israel’s kids to have the same fun, the same sense of community that we are so lucky to have.
And this doesn’t begin to cover the Cherkassy Family Camp, where Greater MetroWest and Israeli young adults volunteer, or the Kefiada Camp in Ofakim, or day camps in Arad or Horfeish…well, you see what I mean. Thousands of Jewish children have a Jewish home for the summer, and they (and their families) come to see their JCC, their Matnas, their Y, as a place filled with the warmth of Judaism and community.
Growing up in a very non-Jewish beach community, there were no day camps, Jewish or otherwise for me to attend. I had no JCC. Because of you, all of the happy faces you see in these pictures have a Jewish day camp. They have a Jewish center to their lives, whether it’s called a JCC, a Matnas, or a Y. Thank you to the staff of all of these wonderful places, who were so proud to tell me about their camps and whose dedication results in the happy smiles you see in these pictures.