Filling a Gap: New Program is Training Jewish Outdoor Leaders

Aug. 05, 2015

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


In May of this year, with funding from the Foundation for Jewish Camps and AVI CHAI Foundation, we convened our pilot group near Yosemite National Park for the first-ever session of Jewish Outdoor Leadership Training for summer camp employees – aptly abbreviated to JOLT. For five intense days, these camp and wilderness leaders from nine summer camps (who together reached somewhere between 7000-8000 campers) found new connections to their Judaism and ways of teaching Judaism outdoors and on the camp trail.


JOLT honed the groups’ skills on practical wilderness leadership, like how to run a great hike, how to lay down safety rules on the trail, the ethos and pragmatics of Leave No Trace, taking care of camping equipment, and how to purify water. Our Torah teaches us that we are made of earth and a divine spark, so, importantly, a major part of JOLT was teaching the gathered leaders (interestingly, most were Heads of Teva, Nature, or Tripping departments) how to teach Judaism outdoors and on the hiking trail in a way to inspire campers and staff around the country all summer long.

Most of JOLT was spent outdoors, including, fittingly, a daylong trip that had to be squeezed in between lightning storms in Yosemite National Park. Leaders learned how to build their own kabbalat shabbat service outdoors, facilitation skills for activities that connected trees and stars to our sacred texts and heritage.

JOLT is a collaboration between Deborah Newbrun, the longtime former Director of Northern California’s, JCCA affiliated, Camp Tawonga, and Camp Tawonga’s current Associate Director Rebecca Meyer. Deborah built the Wilderness Department at Camp Tawonga and Rebecca has strengthened and deepened it.

JOLT’s creators and base are thus nationally recognized leaders in Jewish summer camp wilderness experience, and Camp Tawonga is the biggest institutional backcountry user of Yosemite National Park.

This innovative collaboration notably between two women leaders, filling the gap in Jewish Outdoor Leadership, is ramping up for its second year and seeking to expand past its pilot stage.

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Aug. 09, 2015


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