5 Things I Learned At Leaders Assembly

By Claire Winthrop
Coordinator, Youth Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston

When I first went to FJC’s Leaders Assembly four years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I was new to Jewish professional work and — full disclosure — was never a great overnight camper as a kid, so I was a little bit nervous about being surrounded by camp alumni whose love for camp was lifelong. Plus, my role at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) had been very tactical in focus; leveraging my business skills I concentrated on re-branding our camping programs, marketing camp and building relationships with our local camps. I wondered how applicable the conference would be to my day-to-day work.

I learned that participation at Leaders Assembly was more than just “applicable.” It was inspiring.

  • Our Jewish camp community is committed to building diverse camps that welcome campers with all abilities. Alexis Kashar and Jay Ruderman’s words brought the Jewish camping world’s approach to expanding diversity and welcoming people with disabilities to life.

Filmmaker Tiffany Shain’s plenary, 21st Century Interdependence: The Power of Camp Year Round, added energy to my interest in the idea that our camp work is grounded in character and rooted in Jewish values.

And, it turned out that I was also with my kind of people.

  • At Leaders it became quickly apparent that both campers and non-campers can grow up to be amazing camp advocates and colleagues. I connected with other federation professionals from across North America who understood my job (maybe even better than I did) and faced similar challenges. Thanks to Rebecca Kahn and the One Happy Camper partner meeting I was able to become a real part of a network of dedicated colleagues. We planned to keep in touch afterwards and we continue to do so.

Since my director and I both had such positive experiences in 2014, we decided to invite our congregation camp partners the opportunity to attend Leaders Assembly with us in 2016. We thought it would be a nice treat for them, provide them with meaningful professional development, and give us a chance to deepen our working relationships.   We weren’t sure if they’d be interested or if their managers would think it was worth the time commitment, but they were, very, and their managers did, wholeheartedly. Four congregational professionals came; two long-time camp advocates, and two newer partners.

    • Leaders Assembly is valuable for community professionals at any level. Our long-time advocates presented about their synagogues’ camp programs. They were able to serve as a resource for others while our newer partners absorbed a ton of new information from breakout sessions. Ellie described it as “a chance to learn from experts, network with colleagues, and escape the trenches for a few days to dream big about what is possible in the work we do.” What could be better than that?


  • One is good but two, three, or four Leaders Assemblies are better. With a gap of two years between meetings, there is enough time to develop pilot programs based on what you have learned, grow in your role, assess or reassess your approach, and integrate new practices. While in 2014 I had been impressed, in 2016, I was prepared to take greater advantage of the opportunity; choosing my breakout session attendance strategically (with our partners there to “divide and conquer”) and making plans to collaborate closely with my federation colleagues.

This year I will bring both CJP’s Director of Youth Engagement and the Vice President of Planning with me to Leaders Assembly. They are coming because its content has relevance beyond camping work. I am looking forward to my own new lessons and to hearing about what they learn too.