Back in the 1950s, UJA-Federation purchased 505 acres on Long Island, Staten Island, and in Rockland County, known as the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds. The grounds are now home to 16 day camps in the greater New York area. As part of our centennial, we’re inviting visionary philanthropists to join with us in transforming the campgrounds, which represent the largest Jewish day camp system in North America.
Jack and Shirley Silver have made a $20 million legacy commitment to support this initiative — the largest legacy gift any donors have made known to UJA in their lifetime.
We chatted with Jack about camp, Jewish values, and philanthropy.
(Q) Why is Jewish camping so important?
(A) It’s not just about kids getting on a bus, getting out of the city, and having fun (although that’s wonderful, too). Really, there’s a process taking place. It’s about developing who you are, understanding where you come from, and what you represent. It’s about reaching people when they’re young and imparting Jewish values, so that these values carry on.
(Q) Tell us more about what Jewish values mean to you — and your family?
(A) I didn’t have a formal Jewish education growing up. But I got an education in Jewish values by watching my father, especially the way he treated people on the street who needed a helping hand. My father always helped and now I try to do the same. The experience of giving something, extending that generosity, and seeing the expression of gratitude coming through their heart and on to their faces is worth more to me than anything I’m giving. That sense of compassion and empathy is what I hope to teach my grandchildren.
(Q) What do you hope your legacy gift will help accomplish?
(A) We’re going to make sure the grounds are sufficiently updated, making them attractive, and what parents want for their kids in the sense of activities and facilities that are competitive with other camps. And we’re going to make sure that Jewish values are imparted with first-rate programming.
(Q) What message do you hope your gift sends?
(A) When we announced our gift it was with the hope of setting an example, and that others would understand the importance of what we’re saying and doing here. If you care about the Jewish people surviving — you have to ensure our values survive.