With over $22 million in the Lehigh Valley Jewish Foundation, the community endowment fund of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, we take very seriously our fiduciary responsibility.
One of those responsibilities is investment. We have a very active investment committee chaired by Stan Wax and assisted by Jim Mueth, our director of planned giving and endowments, and Temple Coldren, our director of finance and administration.
Maintaining sound business practices, this year we evaluated our investment performance and our investment managers. After a complex process of RFPs, mountains of proposals, screening meetings and presentations, our Investment Committee recommended the engagement of Goldman, Sachs & Co. as our new investment manager. I am certain Goldman Sachs, working closely with our Investment Committee, will be a positive move for our Foundation’s investments.
But who really knows if an investment will be a good one or a bad one? Without being too speculative, we are all looking for great investments. A sure bet that will pay off. But as good as our investment managers might be, they never really know if something will be a sure bet and an investment that will pay off handsomely in the future.
But I do.
Every decade or so, yet another survey or demographic study reveals the obvious: while America has provided tremendous opportunity for Jewish creativity, expressions and personal freedoms, it has also created many challenges to Jewish affiliation and Jewish identity. Each time, the community circles back to what we know works: high-quality Jewish education, Jewish resident camps and Israel programs. These are effective identity builders, and will generate excellent investment returns.
Our Federation invests heavily in our Jewish Day School to make it as affordable as possible and to support its quality education. But many people are unaware of our financial commitment to Jewish summer camps and trips to Israel.
Let me preface by noting that the Jewish camps and Israel programs available today are wonderful. Specific to camps, our children sacrifice nothing by attending a Jewish camp. There are sports specialty and arts specialty camps. There are camps for those interested in virtually any “flavor” of Judaism. Most importantly, these camps have happy campers.
What makes for a happy camper? Friendships are the reason kids return year after year to the same camp, and the return rates at most camps, Jewish or not, are extremely high. The well-kept secret is that it has little to do with the size of the lake, the vintage of the bunks, the number of tennis courts or the quality of the food (which, happily, I am told is much better than what I was fed as a camper).
And what should matter to us as parents? Our children will be happy at almost any camp they attend because they will make friends and create lasting memories of the time they spent together. Given insignificant differences in the experience offered today by Jewish and non-Jewish camps, it’s really a shame to miss out on one of the absolute best opportunities for children to form positive Jewish connections and create Jewish memories in truly fun and creative ways.
And the same goes for trips to Israel.
Our Federation offers a savings incentive program for trips to Israel. The VISIT program provides parents the opportunity to save over a number of years for their teen’s trip to Israel. The Federation match of up to $1,600 enables a return of over 60 percent on the family’s savings deposits (which are fully refundable). For summer residential camps, we offer needs-based scholarships.
Information about both of these programs is available on our website, www.jewishlehighvalley.org, or by calling the Federation office at 610-821-5500.
As a parent who had sent her son to both a Jewish and non-Jewish private camp recently told me, “I don’t know of kids who come back from private camps talking about how cool it is to be Jewish, but they do when they come home from Jewish summer camp.” And again, the same can be said about trips to Israel compared to trips to France or Spain.
We’ve got such little time to set the course for our children educationally, morally, ethically and Jewishly. We want so much for them as adults. The least we can do is to invest in programs that we know are sure bets and investments that will pay off handsomely in the future.