Last month, Camp Ramah Darom director Geoffrey Menkowitz graduated from an elite professional leadership training program that gave him the supervisory tools to prepare for the future of Jewish camping. Along with 15 other Jewish camp directors, he participated in the Executive Leadership Institute created by the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
There he learned high-level executive and management skills to keep up with general trends in society and the changing face of Jewish life.
Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, gave the commencement address at the Nov. 6 ELI program graduation. In 2005, The Marcus Foundation, of which Marcus is chairman, gave FJC its first $1 million grant to establish the ELI program, and continues to support the program. “His motivation came out of his experience with training executives at The Home Depot,” Menkowitz said. “He shared his belief that for Jewish camps to be successful, we needed to invest in professional leadership in the same way.”
Although Menkowitz has been part of other professional development with other Camp Ramah directors in the past, this was the first time he worked closely with colleagues from other camping movements, most of whom have been in their roles about 10 years. This will be Menkowitz’ 13th summer at Camp Ramah.
“The idea here is not to just teach camp directors, but to really help us evolve as executive leaders and stewards of our organizations,” he said. “This program was not just focused on Jewish education programs or matters of our camp operation, but to really help attain the next level of leadership, to grow as supervisors, to grow as leaders, to enhance our abilities with financial management, and to get to the next level of being able to tell the story of our organization more effectively to all the stakeholders involved.”
Some of the takeaways from the program:
“I feel a deeper knowledge of how to be an effective fundraiser and an effective manager and what I walked away with most of all was how to think about leading our organization to the next decade and beyond.”
A big focus of the program was on anticipating the future in terms of “contemporary trends and making sure camps were evolving and adapting to continue to be relevant and sustainable organizations.”
Camps must stay true to their mission, but need be able to advance that mission through changing times, Menkowitz said he learned. For instance, the ways Jews gather and become engaged are shifting and camps need to be award of that along with other contemporary issues of gender and race, “trends which are impacting all of society but there are implications for the Jewish community that it needs to be thinking about.”
The challenge of Jewish families being able to afford camp is another big issue for leaders of Jewish camps to consider. “What is the role of the camp in all of that?”
This was the fourth cohort to participate in the ELI program. The recent graduates represented five camping movements: Union for Reform Judaism, Ramah, Association of Independent Jewish camps, JCC Association, Young Judaea and Independent camps.
“Using experts and recognized leaders from various disciplines from the business world and the nonprofit sector, the program challenged the directors to widen their lens of leadership and management over a 20-month period that included six seminars [around the country] with industry leaders and Jewish educators, individual mentorship, the use of customer feedback data, and the implementation of a project specific to each cohort’s camp,” FJC reported. “A new addition to the program: travel with peers and faculty members to visit at least one camp other than their own, enabling encounters with fresh perspectives, and new ideas to bring back into their camp communities for the remainder of the summer.”
One of the themes of the executive leadership program was how to stretch their understanding of camp, Menkowitz said. “We see the role Jewish camps can play because we are such an effectual vehicle for Jewish engagement. We can reach families in different ways.”
Menkowitz said he was “extremely grateful” for the high-level training, mentorship and coaching he received through ELI “to help me grow and better serve Ramah Darom.”