JCRS gala to celebrate summer camp

Diana Mann with her daughter Amelia, appx. 1996.

When the gala committee for Jewish Children’s Regional Service was brainstorming ideas for this year’s fundraiser, nothing really excited the group — until someone suggested Jewish sleep-away camp.

Most of the organizers had been to camp themselves, and were now at that stage of life where they were sending their own children — or grandchildren — to camp. They knew the value of Jewish camp and envisioned a celebration that raised money for camp scholarships while spreading the word about the Jewish camp experience.

Thus, the “Jewish Roots of Summer Camp” was born. The gala, featuring live music, dancing and fine dining, will take place on March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Billed as a “chic glamping event,” it will honor JCRS’s long history of assisting families in sending their children to sleep-away camp and even feature some camp themed activities.

Co-chairs Diana Mann and Loel Samuel said the gala promises to be a fun and rollicking affair, mixing music and dancing with reminiscences of summer camp, including a friendship circle, s’mores and a few other surprises.

Both Mann and Samuel sent their children to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, and know firsthand how camp fosters leadership, independence, lifelong friendships and Jewish identity.

Samuel said her son Ben, who is still in touch with camp friends and counselors, is now considering sending his own son to sleep-away camp.

Mann said sending her kids to camp was one of the best decisions she and her husband Chip ever made as parents.

“I wanted my children to have the confidence of going away to camp and experience a new level of self-sufficiency,” Mann said of her son Michael Mann and daughter Amelia Mann Halstead. “Jacobs Camp provided another level of Jewish enrichment which was extremely important. It also broadened their friendship circle, and it is so wonderful to see the reconnections being made as adults.”

Amelia is so passionate about summer camp that she has already begun sending her own daughter Suzie to Jacobs, with younger daughter Bella itching to go herself. When she was looking for a job, she joined the JCRS staff as director of marketing and development, leading efforts to raise scholarships for both camp and college.

“Camp meant the world to me, and I’m so happy to pass that love of camp on to my own children,” she said. She said it is equally important that all Jewish children have that opportunity, whether they can afford it or not.

For more than 60 years, the JCRS Summer Camp Scholarship Aid program has awarded needs-based grants to campers. In 2022, JCRS provided over $257,000 in scholarships to 418 children with financial aid for Jewish summer camp. Since 2010, JCRS has given $2.2 million in scholarships to campers at108 different Jewish summer camps, with Jacobs Camp, Camp Young Judaea Texas in Woodcreek, Tex., and URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Tex., accounting for 66 percent of all JCRS awards.

Among those on the gala program is Macy Hart, former long-time Jacobs Camp director, who is looking forward to reuniting and connecting camp alumni. Macy’s father Ellis Hart and his uncles Van Hart and Carol Hart were raised in the Jewish Children’s Home, the predecessor to JCRS, with Carol Hart eventually becoming president of JCRS.

Table sponsorship and tickets are available. The event is open to the public. For more information about the event, patron levels and sponsorships, contact Amelia Halstead at (800) 729-5277, or email her. Information is also available here.

JCRS was established as an orphanage in 1855 and is the only Jewish charity of its type in the country — a regional Jewish child welfare agency and the oldest existing Jewish child welfare organization in the U.S. JCRS serves Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Today, JCRS funds or serves over 1,800 Jewish children throughout its service region.