From Sitting Around a Campfire to Serving the Global Jewish World
By Molly Kazan, Stephanie Blitzer and Gili Fleekop
“We are different, not the same, connected by a common name, don’t hold back, just hold on tight, from the darkness until the morning light.”
These are the lyrics from the 2015 Cornerstone Song, from the year the three of us served as Cornerstone Fellows at Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone Seminar (FJC’s 5-day seminar for returning counselors) for our respective camps: Camp Interlaken JCC, Camp Tel Yehudah and Pinemere Camp. Each year, our camps send a delegation of staff to gain exposure to the richness of American Jewish camping. As Cornerstone Fellows, we learn leadership skills, best practices in camp programming, and how to serve as Jewish role models.
As self-described “camp people,” we arrived at Cornerstone 2015 excited to learn and grow, but unaware of just how deeply this seminar would impact us, our camps, and the greater Jewish world. After exchanging camp traditions and Snapchat names as one does with peripheral Jewish friends, we each left the seminar excited to go back to our own respective camps.
We went off to three different colleges and completed three different study abroad programs in Israel. Fast forward to summer 2018 when we found ourselves independently wondering what was next, and asking ourselves the same questions: Should I get a job? Should I go to graduate school? Should I take a gap year? Fate led us to the JDC-Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps orientation in New York. After schmoozing and realizing we had attended Cornerstone together, we were filled with relief. We may have been moving alone across the world to serve in global Jewish communities, but at least we had another camp person in our JDC cohort. Once you go to Jewish camp, you’ve truly found a community for life – regardless of where in the world you find yourself!
Molly set out for Latvia, Stephanie journeyed to Rwanda, and Gili took her talents to Israel. Our suitcases were filled to the brim, each packed with placement-specific goods ranging from Costco peanut butter to malaria pills to Shoresh sandals. But far more important than the physical items we brought were the Kavanah (intention), Arevut (responsibility), and Kehilah (community) instilled in us from years of attending and working at Jewish camp. These values were infused into every song session, cabin overnight, and closing campfire. JDC allowed us a chance to take our passions as camp people to the global level.
JDC, the global Jewish humanitarian group, was founded on a principle of Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh – all Jews are responsible for one another. Working at JDC seems like the next step on a journey we began at Cornerstone in 2015 – Arevut (responsibility) was the Jewish value on which the Cornerstone 2015 song was based. Jewish camp, Cornerstone, and now JDC have all nourished the idea that the most meaningful expression of Jewish values is to seek out ways to better care for one another.
Our shared passion for making the world a better place is what links the three of us, even though we are different and our paths are not the same. Whether we’re speaking in English, Hebrew, Russian, or Kinyarwanda, the values we learned as camp counselors have guided our lives and brought us together again and again. By committing to JDC’s global Jewish mission, we continue the journey we began at Cornerstone all those years ago – rededicating ourselves to finding the morning light.
Molly Kazan, Stephanie Blitzer and Gili Fleekop currently serve as 2018-2019 JDC-Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps Fellows. The fellowship offers young Jews a year-long opportunity to directly engage with JDC’s global mission while actively fulfilling the value of global Jewish responsibility. The three young women credit their strong Jewish upbringing, particularly through overnight American Jewish summer camp experiences, for their passion for JDC’s mission. Molly went to Camp Livingston and worked at Camp Interlaken JCC, Stephanie has Camp Tel Yehudah pride, and Gili hails from Pinemere Camp. Each is grateful to FJC, JDC, and Entwine for shining a light onto Judaism’s richness and leading them along this path. To learn more about JDC Entwine, click here: https://www.jdcentwine.org/
This piece is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.