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Jewish Journal

Camp Adjusts to Life Away From Parent

by David Finnigan

May 26, 2005 | 8:00 pm

This will be Camp JCA Shalom's first summer away from home. For the first time in its 54-year history, the Malibu camp is independent, having broken away from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in January.

Life after the centers crisis hasn't been easy for The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center, and now officials are learning how to raise the bulk of the camp's $2.3 million budget.

"Everything is great but we need support," said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom.

JCCGLA's financial problems involved The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as JCA Shalom, and the Jewish agency is doing its part to help the start-up nonprofit camp. By providing transitional money, The Federation hopes the camp's leadership can develop an administrative culture.

Prior to its move for independence, the Camp JCA Shalom received 8 percent of its annual funding from JCCGLA. Now an independent Jewish nonprofit and designated Federation beneficiary agency, the camp and institute are getting 17 percent of its budget this year, or $350,000, directly from The Federation. About 80 percent of the camp and institute's budget will be covered by service fees, with another 3 percent from individual donors and grants. The number of campers on scholarship has not changed from last year.

The first round of campers arrives at Camp JCA Shalom on June 28.

"We were happy to provide the transition funding that any new organization getting started would need," said Andrew Cushnir, The Federation's vice president of planning.

Cushnir said that after transitional support is withdrawn, the camp should continue to thrive.

While Wilshire Boulevard Temple's Camp Hess Kramer hugs the Ventura County line near Malibu's northernmost beaches, nearby Camp JCA Shalom requires a nerve-testing drive through mountainous stretches of the Mulholland Highway. Once there, Camp JCA's large Hebrew script front gate opens to a camp far removed from the urban world.

But the mellowness does not affect the newly independent camp's aggressive new outreach. The Shalom Institute ran a February Elderhostel, which Kaplan said had a waiting list. The camp's expanded Reform religious school retreats for Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Westwood's University Synagogue, Valley Village's Temple Beth Hillel, Santa Monica's Beth Shir Shalom and Sha'arei Am and Culver City's Temple Akiba. In March there was a successful mother's retreat with a similar event slated for this October.

"We are using the term 'virtual JCC' to describe who we are," Kaplan told The Journal, explaining how the camp and institute have shed only the funding mechanism of Jewish community center life but not the half-century of JCC culture.

"The reality is that we've been growing despite the JCCGLA crisis," he said.

Other organizations that the Shalom Institute has been reaching out to this year include the Santa Barbara and Palm Springs federations, Agoura's Heschel West Day School and another day school in Albuquerque, plus Jewish community centers on the Westside and in Long Beach, Tucson and Albuquerque. The Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School near the Fairfax District used Camp JCA Shalom for a Shabbaton in mid-March, and its students learned about Israeli flora at the camp's Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center.

"In December we're slated to use them again," said Eddie Friedman, Shalhevet student affairs director. "They're trying to teach vegetation, trying to teach something about biblical gardening, kind of all inclusive. That's quite different for kids who live in Beverly Hills or the Valley, to get out there into nature."

Friedman's sole complaint about the nondenominational Jewish camp is that it lacked a permanent eruv.

"We have to put it up," he said. "I wish they would find a way so they can leave it for others to use it."

A capital campaign seeks to match an initial $333,000 challenge grant to refurbish the Camp JCA dining hall by 2007.

The institute has hired a couple more staffers to handle administrative support and has spent part of this spring educating its board members on their duties. Fundraising has become a top priority, since The Federation's funding level will not last indefinitely.

"There's no parent agency supporting us," Kaplan said. "It's wonderful to be independent. At the same time we have to begin a culture of fundraising. You equate it with the child who goes off to college."

 

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