“How’d You Get Here?”: Thoughts from a Cornerstone Senior Fellow
By Ethan Feuer
Until I attended Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone Seminar, I had scarcely witnessed traditional Jewish camp — but now, I see the magic in it. Last year, I attended FJC’s Cornerstone Seminar, which brings over 400 Jewish camp leaders together to learn from each other and FJC Faculty and Educators, innovating together to provide the best possible summer experience for Jewish children all over North America. As a third-year staff member of USY’s flagship program, USY on Wheels, Classic (a six and a half week, cross country bus tour for Jewish teens), Cornerstone enabled me to bring new approaches, experiences, and insights back to my campers.
This year, I attended Cornerstone as part of FJC’s inaugural Senior Fellowship. The Cornerstone Senior Fellowship is about bringing Cornerstone alumni together to dive deeper into informal Jewish education, to develop a project to be carried out in each of the fellows’ summer communities and to inspire Jewish connection in our careers. The depth of the Jewish learning, the project management, the mutual exchange of knowledge between the crème de la crème of Jewish camp leaders, and the inherent excitement of being an inaugural Senior Fellow inspired me to apply.
Immediately upon my bus’s arrival to Capital Camps, we were met with unparalleled delight from Foundation for Jewish Camp staff and Cornerstone Faculty. As we pulled in, I felt some nervousness coming on, but instead of repressing it, I embraced it, using this feeling to my advantage, recognizing the value of productive discomfort. I was reminded that the uncertainty that accompanies the start of something new is a feeling many campers experience every summer. Once campers settle into the new environment, they are able to truly thrive. Taking a cue from my campers, I consciously decided to invest heavily into getting the most from the Cornerstone experience. It was fitting that the theme of the week was Kavanah, or intention. I exited the bus and entered into an experience that would fundamentally change my perspective on Jewish camp, informal Jewish education, and perhaps, my career path.
At our first Senior Fellows meeting, our 18-person cohort was met with a question posed by our faculty advisor, Jon Adam Ross, or “JAR.” He asked us all individually, “How’d you get here?” and the replies were rather literal – “I flew,” “I took a bus this morning,” or “I came from my mother’s womb.” Once everyone had answered, he asked us the same question twice more, “How’d you get here?” and the answers progressively deepened. We shared our Jewish upbringings and game-changing camp experiences that had brought us to this moment. I began to see the bigger picture. We all had uniquely powerful Jewish journeys that had brought us to this moment, but regardless of how we had gotten there, we were there for the same goal: to bring intention to our camps and to our Jewish selves.
For the following three days, we were tasked with assembling a project to be carried out at our camps this summer. My project is an attempt to create a sustainable model for USY on Wheels to discard and compost food on our trip. I hope to educate my “wheelniks” about the science and simplicity of composting, as well as instilling the Jewish values of sustainability, social responsibility, and community mindedness. On the last day, we offered our projects to each other, our individual camps, and FJC staff who visited our meetings. I was full steam ahead with a newfound confidence in articulating my project’s goals, areas for improvement, and of course, intentions. This project will be challenging to implement, but thanks to the Senior Fellowship, I know that I will have the support and motivation necessary to achieve my goal.
As if in the form of a disclaimer, we were told several times that the inaugural Senior Fellow cohort was an experimental program, but that disclaimer proved completely unnecessary. The experience was well-thought out, programmatically sound, and remarkably intentional in every activity and conversation. JAR led us with emotional compassion and with the craving for a mutual exchange of learning, and for that, and for FJC’s constant dedication to the program every step of the way, I am eternally grateful. This experience was unforgettable and inspiring, and no matter where I end up in the future, the lessons I have learned, techniques I have acquired, and appreciation for Jewish community that I developed at Cornerstone 2019 as a member of the inaugural Senior Fellowship will be threaded into my life.
Ethan Feuer is a rising senior at Binghamton University studying English Literature and Education, pursuing a career in high school teaching. At school he is heavily involved in campus life, serving as President of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Director of First-Year Students of Hillel, Senior Consultant at the Speaking Center, Campus Ambassador for Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry, among other extracurricular engagements. In his free time, he loves to hang out with friends, listen to music, play basketball, read, and juggle. This will be his third summer working for USY on Wheels as he will hit the road with some outstanding staff and teens on Bus B 2019!