The Importance of Jewish Summer Camp in My Life
As the proud father of four Jewish summer campers, the husband of a Jewish summer camper and a former Jewish camper myself, I can tell you that camps had a profound impact on my family’s connection to Judaism. While I’m passionate about making sure more kids in our community can attend Jewish summer camps, I also love cycling. That’s why I decided to bring the two together.
In the spring of 2013, I brought my idea for a community cycling event to benefit local summer camps to the lay and professional leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and I’m thankful that they agreed to partner with me in creating Tour de Summer Camps. Last year, our inaugural event was successful beyond my expectations. I’m proud to share that we netted close to $500,000, which allowed our Federation to increase its commitment to local summer camps to a record $1.35 million for 2014 – helping 1,500 children experience the magic of Jewish summer camp!
This year, Tour de Summer Camps is taking place at Camp Alonim on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University on September 21st. Once again, we are offering numerous involvement opportunities. Riders from our community are registering to participate and raise funds from their friends and families. They can choose from four incredible courses: 18, 36, 62 and 100 miles. Everyone is given access to easily set up their own online fundraising page, as well as coaching, tips and guidance all along the way — to help them both cross the finish line and achieve their fundraising goals. We also offer the opportunity to be a “virtual rider”, allowing those who aren’t able to ride to raise money for a cause close to their hearts. And of course, we can’t pull off the day without the help of numerous volunteers along the course where they provide water, refreshments and inspiration to our riders!
Serving as “Ride Master” for the past two years has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It has been a privilege to bring 9 summer camps together under the same umbrella, and to witness members of our community working toward a shared goal — regardless of Reform, Conservative or Orthodox affiliation. This has deepened my partnership with our local Federation, and strengthened my passion for making Jewish summer camping affordable for more families in our community. You’re probably familiar with the study by the Foundation for Jewish Camp that shows how integral the experience is in developing future leaders within the Jewish community. Former campers grow up to be more Jewishly engaged, more connected to Israel and more likely to pass on Jewish values and traditions to their own children.
Through Tour de Summer Camps, I have also gained a much better appreciation for just how amazing our camps are at transforming lives. When I read letters of gratitude from families who have received either financial assistance or incentive grants through our Federation, I’m heartened to be playing even a small part in their joy.
As Wexner alumni, and leaders in our respective Jewish communities, one of the main challenges we are all faced with is increasing affordability and access to Jewish life. We know it is going to take creative thinking and innovative ideas to achieve this critical goal. Of course, I would be thrilled to talk with you about how to roll out Tour de Summer Camps in your community. Wouldn’t it be great if the Tour de Summer Camps ride became a national cycling event to raise money across America for all Jewish Camps?
I can’t imagine my life without Jewish summer camp. It has already made a tremendous impact on my kids, and hopefully my grandchildren someday. And isn’t that what passing on Jewish values to future generations is all about?
Rodney Freeman, a Wexner Heritage Alum from LA/Bank of America, is the founder of Freeman Group, Inc., a construction management and consulting firm whose projects have included the Jewish Federation’s Headquarters-6505, City of Hope Medical Center, UCLA Hillel, and the Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center of Beverly Hills. Rodney volunteers communally as the Co-Founder and Founding Chairman of the Moriah Society at American Jewish University (AJU), and chairs several building committees such as the AJU, City of Hope, Otis College of Art and Design and the Breed Street Shul. He also serves on the Board of the Gilbert Foundation. Rodney can be reached at email@example.com.