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Jewish Journal

With Camperships for All

by David Finnigan

May 27, 2004 | 8:00 pm

They are not scholarships but "camperships" in Jewish summer camp parlance. Of the 1,000 campers expected soon at Malibu's Camp JCA Shalom, which is supported by JCCGLA, about 200 parents applied for camperships.

"It's amazing, in the past few years, the income level of people who are requesting camperships," said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom. Its campership aid this year will run about $130,000, $75,000 of which is general camp aid from The Federation. That is an increase from the $50,000 The Federation made available 2002, the boost due to the increase in cash-strapped families.

In addition to that $75,000, there is a separate $18,000 in Federation money for kids from Russian immigrant families, with the rest of Camp JCA's $130,000 coming from donations and regional federations for campers from Arizona, Las Vegas and Southern California's outlying Jewish communities not served by the L.A. Federation.

"About half of the parents are unaffiliated," Kaplan said. "One of our targets is Jews who are not affiliated with a synagogue."

In an outreach to public high school kids, the Orthodox Union's National Council of Synagogue Youth is running a $2,500, July 1-25 coed "Caravan West" motorcoach tour of the western United States.

Whatever the denomination, applying for any campership usually is simple and discreet.

"On the application for camp we have a checkbox. Our office then will send out a packet; a financial aid application," said Rabbi Daniel Greyber, executive director of the University of Judaism's Camp Ramah in California, which has about 15 percent to 20 percent of parents requesting aid, and this summer will distribute $175,000 in camperships. Parents are also asked if their synagogue will help.

"The expectation is that everybody contributes something," Greyber said. "Many but not all of the Conservative synagogues have a scholarship fund, either for Camp Ramah in California or Jewish camp in general."

Wilshire Boulevard Temple's Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu helps Reform kids through a campership fund.

"We will at least match the temple," said Hess Kramer director Howard Kaplan. "There are times when I have a rabbi call and say they're out of funds and they really need to get this kid to camp; can we find a way? We find a way."

Wilshire Boulevard will distribute about $30,000 in camperships to about 60-80 kids.

"We try to get everyone something, even if it's a hundred bucks for a short session," said Howard Kaplan, who added that safeguards are in the application process. "We ask for the front page of their taxes, just so that they're not earning $250,000 and they don't want to pay. It happens."

Camp Hess Kramer gives camperships covering no more than half its fee, and its director avoids making such aid habit-forming.

"If we have families on scholarship we try to wean them off it over the years," he said.

Above all, he said, "If a kid's deserving, you get him there."

Financial aid is also available through interest-free loans from Federation-backed Jewish Free Loan Association and its Morris Doberne Camper Experience Loan Fund.

Aid is not just for sleepover camps. At Temple Israel of Hollywood, the six-week day camp costs $300 a week, with 60 percent of its 70 campers from the shul's school.

"We don't have an express scholarship program, but we work with individual families who express a specific need," said Jackie Symonds, the school's general studies coordinator. "It's basically what can you afford."

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