For three local Jewish camps ushering in new leadership, summer 2010 will be a season of change. Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa in the San Bernardino Mountains hired a new executive director in February, Camp Alonim in Simi Valley is narrowing choices to replace its current director, and Camp Ramah in Ojai will replace its resigning director, who is leaving at the end of summer.
This changing of the guard at some of Southern California’s largest Jewish sleep-away camps is by no means a trend; each development unfolded independently.
Dedicated Volunteer Becomes Passionate Leader
Camp Gilboa, the Habonim Dror Labor Zionist Youth Movement camp near San Bernardino, is built on the participation of the organization’s volunteers. So it seems appropriate that Gilboa parent Dalit Shlapobersky, who replaced outgoing executive director Jacob Proud on Feb. 17, spent the past four years volunteering with the camp and is a strong believer in the Habonim Dror (the Builders of Freedom) movement, which organizes year-round activities for youth.
“It was love at first sight,” Shlapobersky said of the kibbutz-style camp that fosters a connection to Israel and Israeli culture, encourages collective work and social action, and emphasizes the ideals of equality, freedom and peace. “I was very passionate about Gilboa right from the start, so being where I am today feels very natural to me,” she said.
Shlapobersky, an Israeli native who moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, worked previously at the Israeli consulate and as a translator. Her involvement in Camp Gilboa, which draws considerably from the Israeli community, led Shlapobersky to step in as interim director until the camp could find a permanent replacement for Proud.
“I knew they had been looking for someone for a long time,” she said. “I also knew that it might take a while to find someone who fit — it’s not a high-paying job, it requires much dedication and hard work, weeks up at camp, passion.”
It didn’t take long for “interim” to be removed from Shlapobersky’s title.
At the top of her agenda is raising funds for a major initiative: purchasing a campsite.
Gilboa currently rents a YMCA facility, and Shlapobersky said they are unable to make physical improvements to the site or initiate building projects as part of the camp’s emphasis on communal work and nature.
According to a letter written to the Gilboa community by board chair Liz Bar-El, the camp’s enrollment is on the rise and a new location is needed to meet the camp’s growing needs.
Also on the horizon is a Nov. 20 celebration and alumni reunion timed to Camp Gilboa’s 75th anniversary, to be held in Los Angeles.
Both are large undertakings, but Shlapobersky doesn’t seem intimidated.
“They’re big tasks, but I’m not taking them on by myself — we’re a dedicated network of volunteers working together,” she said.
Transition in Progress
Jordanna Flores, Camp Alonim’s first female director, announced her resignation in October 2009, and the camp is currently interviewing candidates to fill her position. Flores, who spent six summers of her youth as an Alonim camper, joined the staff as program director after coordinating Alonim’s 50th reunion in 2003, and then took on directorship of the Simi Valley camp in fall 2005.
Flores and American Jewish University (AJU), which runs Alonim, declined to comment on the reasons behind the camp director’s departure.
In an e-mail, Gady Levy, vice president of AJU and dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education, wrote that Flores “has been an incredible leader and source of guidance to the Alonim community,” and will stay on until the summer to help with the transition to the new leadership.
According to Levy, the university is in the final stages of the selection process and hopes to announce the new director within the next few weeks.
“Despite the upcoming staff change,” he wrote, “we are incredibly excited about supporting all of the incredible and innovative programming of Alonim and look forward to seeing only further growth.”
From Ramah to the Rabbinate
“The time has come for me to pursue a different type of position for the next phase of my rabbinate,” Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Camp Ramah’s executive director, wrote in a resignation letter to board chair Ilana Meskin on Jan. 4.
The letter, which was sent to the Ramah community two days later, expressed Greyber’s commitment and devotion to the camp and how difficult it was for him to resign after leading an institution he called “a jewel for the Conservative movement and the Jewish people” for eight years.
Camp Ramah was his first assignment out of rabbinical school in 2002, and Greyber said he is grateful to have begun his career in such a critical area of Jewish identity. But he said he is ready to move on to something different, ideally a congregational pulpit.
As a rabbinical student with AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Greyber interned with Temple Beth Am and Sinai Temple; the day-to-day speaking, teaching and counseling work of leading a synagogue intrigued him.
Greyber is not limiting his search for a pulpit geographically, and it is likely he won’t stay in Los Angeles. He has also applied to a one-year fellowship in Jerusalem with the Mandel Leadership Institute, where he hopes to develop a method by which the lessons of camp directing can be applied to a synagogue educational setting.
“It’s an exciting time and we’ll see where we land,” said Greyber, who will stay through the end of the 2010 summer season. “Right now, I’m just going through the process.”
Camp Ramah’s board is seeking a replacement, but feels it has time to conduct a thorough search, given the ample notice Greyber provided.
“We’re looking for someone more senior, not someone right out of rabbinical school,” Meskin said. “Rabbi Greyber evolved the job over the past eight years and we grew tremendously as an institution during that time.”
The next director, Meskin says, would help the camp take its next step: autonomy from American Jewish University.
She says the AJU board and university president, Rabbi Robert Wexler, recognize that the camp is ready to become a stand-alone institution and recently offered it the chance to buy the camp property. The new director would also take charge of the initiative to develop a Ramah camp in the underserved Northern California region.
“It’s a time of great expansion and growth for Ramah,” Meskin said. “It’s a particularly exciting time for a new leader to come in, though we are sorry to see Rabbi Greyber move on.”