Jewish summer campers take a break in the grass. (Photo/Courtesy Foundation for Jewish Camp)
Jewish summer campers take a break in the grass. (Photo/Courtesy Foundation for Jewish Camp)

Jim Joseph Foundation awards $12M for Jewish summer camps

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The San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation has awarded $12 million to the Foundation for Jewish Camp to be disbursed over the next four years, the New York-based camps organization announced Monday.

The money is earmarked for general operating expenses, and represents a significant chunk of the $67 million capital campaign currently underway by the Foundation for Jewish Camp to help Jewish summer camps across North America rebound from revenue losses during the pandemic.

The pandemic hobbled camps, particularly sleepaway camps, across the country. In the Bay Area, all six Jewish sleepaway camps were closed to in-person sessions during the 2020 summer season, and while this past summer camps rebounded after the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, a number of sessions were cut short, and operating costs were very high due to extra safety measures put in place because of the virus.

The mission of the Foundation for Jewish Camp is to help Jewish camps adapt and thrive, and to support their role in forming “lifelong connections to Judaism,” according to the organization, founded in 1998.

“FJC continues to be a crucial intermediary partner for the field of Jewish camping and the Jim Joseph Foundation is proud to partner with the FJC team as they execute their strategic plan over the next four years,” Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a press release.

In 2006 the Jim Joseph Foundation became one of the wealthiest Jewish philanthropies in the country when it announced it would receive more than $500 million in assets from its founder, a Bay Area real estate magnate.

Jim Joseph escaped the Nazis when he fled Austria in 1938. He would eventually settle in Los Angeles, attend Wharton and make a fortune in property development with investments in San Francisco and what would become Silicon Valley. He died in 2003.

URJ Camp Newman staff dance together on Shabbat before the return of campers, June 2021.
URJ Camp Newman staff dance together on Shabbat before the return of campers, June 2021.

The organization has awarded more than $600 million in grants since 2006, with most of the money going toward Jewish education programs. Earlier this year the foundation donated $11.4 million to Hillel International, $3 million to the Jewish Federations of North America and $625,000 to the Bay Area-based Jews of Color Initiative, among other grants.

In 2019, the philanthropy, whose official name is the Shimon Ben Joseph Foundation, reported over $1.3 billion in total assets, according to tax filings.

“We are beyond grateful to the Jim Joseph Foundation board and staff for its thought partnership, generosity, and all-around collaboration,” said board chair Julie Platt. “This grant is an endorsement of the value FJC brings to the ecosystem of Jewish camp.”

Bay Area Jewish summer camps have benefited from Foundation for Jewish Camp grants in the past.

In 2019, Camp Tawonga and URJ Camp Newman received grants via the foundation’s Yashar Initiative, to help the camps better serve kids with intellectual, developmental, physical and sensory disabilities. The JCC Maccabi Sports Camp and Eden Village West, the farm camp, were created through the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camps Incubator.

While during the pandemic the foundation focused on Covid relief, by mid-2023 it plans to pivot back to its original mission of professional development and programs, such as its immersive Hebrew learning initiative.

Last year the Jim Joseph Foundation helped launch a national Covid-response “superfund,” partnering with the Maimonides Fund and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The initiative aimed to help Jewish organizations as the pandemic unfolded. Consultations among the three foundations’ leaders led to the creation of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, with an interest-free loan pot of more than $90 million.