by Baila Olidort

July 27, 2000


July 26--Few overnight camp directors would have missed a small news item about a whopping $11.2 million grant to the Federation of Jewish Camps (FJC) last week.

The grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation will “provide financial incentives to Jewish pre-teens in target communities west of the Rockies to enroll for the first time in Jewish nonprofit overnight camps,” said the press statement on the FJC website.

Echoing a sentiment of so many who’ve known this intuitively, even before studies confirmed the long term benefits to Jewish continuity that come from a 24/7 Jewish immersion experience. Al Levitt,  Jim Joseph Foundation president, said, “Jewish camping is one of the keystones for connecting these youngsters to the Jewish community." 

The FJC mission statement and other information with illustrative graphs on the website, confirm its commitment to Jewish camping as an effective means of enhancing Jewish affiliation and Jewish identity.

With a constituency of over 130 non profit Jewish camps, the FJC, to its credit, is helping a lot of Jewish kids who might not otherwise afford it, the chance to spend a summer, or a few weeks of the summer at a Jewish camp.

When I clicked on “find a camp” I found an interesting menu offering me a choice of everything from “Lubavitch”—once again Chabad defies categorization—to  Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Secular, Cultural and more.

And then there was a choice of dietary preferences. This included Kosher, Kosher Availability, Kosher Style and Not Kosher.

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise, but then, if the FJC is doing what it does to “increase Jewish practice” among other Jewish identity-building points, it behooves a miminal standard that would require, at the very least, that camps serve only kosher food to be eligible for FJC support.



July 25--In an interesting architectural improvisation, a precise replica of Jerusalem’s Western Wall is coming to Berlin’s 12,000-member Jewish community. The replica, 100 square meters of imported Jerusalem stone, will be installed in the city’s new $8.2 million Jewish community center.

According to Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, Chabad representative to Berlin and executive director of the center, the architecture is a reflection of the center’s philosophy that looks to the future while building upon a long tradition.

Teichtal’s observation, and the idea of replicating a remnant wall from ancient Jewish times in an otherwise sleek structure with a blue glass window, calls to mind the post-modern architectural philosophy of liminality, associated with transitional spaces.

The new center’s design is the work of the highly regarded Russian-born, German architect Sergei Tchoban who designed the Berlin Aquadom, one of the world’s most unusual aquariums near Alexander Platz.

The center, already being used,  will be formally dedicated at a ceremony on September 2nd.


July 24--It’s not the first time that Chabad representatives are setting up home in the vacation villages of the world. But it’s always a curious juxtaposition, so Cancun’s Jewish community of 200 is embracing the new Chabad representatives to this island resort on the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, with sunny delight.

"We're very excited," the president of Cancun's Jewish community, Samuel Rovero, said in a press release issued by Chabad. "We truly believe that it is better for the community to have a spiritual and religious authority." 

Cancun’s local Jewish population is small—numbering only about 200, but the resort town sees thousands of Jewish vacationers annually.

Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Druk, who arrived three weeks ago with their baby girl, will address the needs of both. The young couple is exploring their new environment, hitting the malls to introduce themselves and invite people to their new home.

They’ve set up a website, where visitors and locals will learn about the programs and services, including those for the high holidays, that Chabad will offer.


July 23--It wasn’t until my first Tisha b’Av in Jerusalem two years ago, that this day of fasting and mourning morphed from a 24 hour endurance test sans food or drink, to a day of compelling personal relevance. To someone who has observed Tisha b’Av all her life, this came as a surprising discovery.

But that was the infamous summer of the withdrawal from Gush Katif . . . To so many of us, the destruction happening before our eyes was hardly a matter of old history.

The day-to-day situation in Israel makes Tisha b'Av matter deeply to a wide cross section of Jews. The physical site of the Temple can readily be pointed to, making its destruction and everything represented by the dissolution of the Jewish Commonwealth, much closer to real life experience. And the politics makes the precariousness of Jewish sovereignty an immediate concern to Israel's Jews, many of whom are still reeling from the trauma and self-inflicted wounds of the summer of 2005.

What of Jews in the Diaspora? Diaspora Jewry is a fact  and a direct consequence of the  destruction. Yet Tisha b’Av outside of Israel seems more removed, compared with the way it is experienced by Israeli Jews—many thousands of whom made their way to the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha b'Av, where Eicha, Lamentations and the dirges of Tisha b’Av known as Kinot were read.

Outside of Israel, the day does not seem to hold quite the same emotional intensity. And yet, in the course of the last week, I counted email after email coming from different Chabad centers across the U.S. and other countries, informing readers of their Tisha b’Av community-wide events.

A curious thing, really. There are no joyful symbols, no child-friendly rituals associated with this commemorative day. Chabad Shluchim cannot pitch Tisha b’Av as an opportunity for families to get together and discover the joy of Judaism.

But at one Chabad center after another, people came. They came and took comfort in the company of fellow Jews for a tragedy that precedes the individual memory of any one of us, yet is somehow, ineluctably registered in our collective consciousness.


July 22--In an interesting news item published by the University of Manchester, a recent study finds that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population will constitute a majority of Jews by the year 2050.

The study looked at population growth in the United Kingdom, with similar patterns confirmed for Israel and the United States, showing that every 20 years, the ultra-Orthodox population doubles in size.

That’s not enough, though, to turn the almost negative growth rate of the Jewish population around, any time soon. For that to happen, larger families may well need to start showing up among a much wider Jewish demographic. Maybe that’s why the Lubavitcher Rebbe granted so many the blessing of children, and encouraged the desire for large families.

Jewish continuity, he insisted, depended on Jewish children first.

But the concern is broader yet. From a Jewish perspective, ensuring positive human population growth is a moral imperative. “Be fruitful and multiply” is the particular mitzvah given to the Jewish people.  But the Torah applies the mitzvah to populate the earth with human life, to humankind at large. 

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