Over 500 Jewish youth received camp scholarship aid during the summer 2006 through the Jewish Children’s Regional Service.
The New Orleans-based agency saw its camp assistance numbers double over the past year, with 216 Jewish youth from the Gulf Coast hurricane zone receiving assistance. Another 287 lived elsewhere in the seven-state region served by JCRS.
Much of the increase was made possible by a large grant from Foundation for Jewish Camping. The Foundation’s Habayita program raised over $400,000 for those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The foundation is an advocacy group for over 130 overnight Jewish summer camps in North America.
Union for Reform Judaism Henry S. Jacobs Camp, located in Utica, hosted more than 100 campers through Habayita funds. Jacobs Camp Director Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen remarked “For each and every one of them, the chance to be at camp was a tremendous gift — a break from the chaos and disorder to spend time in a place that was structured and safe, organized and familiar, and, most importantly, completely built around and for them.”
The youth from hurricane areas attended 19 camps this summer — JCC Barney, B’nai B’rith Beber Camp, URJ Coleman, Darom, URJ Eiser Camp/Crane Lake, Emunah, Gan Israel, URJ Greene, Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, URJ Harlem, Henry Horner, URJ Henry S. Jacobs, Young Judaea-Texas, URJ Kutz, NJ-Y Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, Ramah Darom, NY-J Camp Round Lake, Tel Yehudah, and Yeshivas Hakayitz.
The recipients ranged in age from 8 to 17. Although the majority live in the greater New Orleans area, campers who received funding hailed from across the Gulf Coast region, including Mississippi and Texas.
Many of those who benefited from Habayita suffered traumatic experiences during Hurricane Katrina; one child waited for five days before being airlifted with her family off their roof. Her home was completely destroyed. Another child’s home was only a few hundred yards from the levee that broke in New Orleans; he was fortunately unhurt but his home was completely destroyed. A girl whose Bat Mitzvah was scheduled for a few days after Katrina struck celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in another city, away from the town she lived in and loved.
When FJC launched this initiative in the fall of 2005, individuals and organizations from across the United States contributed to this emergency camp scholarship fund. A lead gift from the UJA-Federation, New York encouraged support as did a matching grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Most remarkable were the gifts from current campers moved by the idea that other children might not be able to attend summer camp. Several children dedicated their own time to raising money for Habayita.
“With hundreds of Jewish families affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita, this scholarship fund has enabled Jewish youth to rejoin the warmth and comfort of their peer group community at camp; something they desperately needed after living through such difficult circumstances” explained Jerry Silverman, President of the Foundation for Jewish Camping. “For so many kids, Jewish overnight summer camps are considered second homes. We felt that those children needed their camps this summer more than ever.”