2015-08-19 / Home

Departing Medford Camp director reflects on ‘greatest job in the world’

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD
Voice staff


JCC Camp Director Aaron Greenberg has given the grand golf-cart tour of camp to hundreds of families over the years. On a recent trip, he took around (from left), Sarah Zalcmann and her son Owen, and Rachel Klingenstein with daughter Emma. JCC Camp Director Aaron Greenberg has given the grand golf-cart tour of camp to hundreds of families over the years. On a recent trip, he took around (from left), Sarah Zalcmann and her son Owen, and Rachel Klingenstein with daughter Emma. By the ripe age of 11, young Aaron Greenberg’s mind was already churning with ideas about improving the JCC Camps at Medford experience.

Although there was much he loved about his summers at Hilltop, Shalom and Aaron, he parted ways with his beloved day camp for another one equipped with real street hockey facilities. The blacktop court used as a rink at Medford at the time was not enclosed, explained Greenberg.

“I was a huge hockey fan,” he said. “But the balls would go into the woods and we could never find them. I left because I didn’t think the program was as strong as it could be.”

For Greenberg, who is leaving again after his 16-year tenure as the JCC Camps’ director, it was a valuable lesson that has served him well and will continue to be a guiding principle in his new position as JCC Association senior day camp consultant.

Back in 1999, one of his first orders of business was to create a proper hockey rink—complete with a cover to allow for rain or shine play.

“My feeling has always been that we should be the best camp in the United States,” said Greenberg, a Cherry Hill resident and father of four current campers. “How was it that we had a camp that didn’t even have a good hockey rink? We want kids to feel the concept of Judaism and all the other stuff that we think is important at a Jewish camp—which I certainly do believe in—but on the other hand, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice for the word ‘Jewish.’”

Making hockey fans happy was just the start. Greenberg’s run in the “best job in the world,” as he’s known to describe the position—was marked by a major expansion of premier summertime activities at the camp’s 120 wooded acres. Among projects, he oversaw the creation of a splash park, lake inflatables, major upgrades to the ropes courses and a new bike-riding course for the youngest campers. Capital improvements included the construction of the Camp Aaron pavilion, the heating of the Hilltop pool this summer, as well as the current $2-million campaign (near completion) to create a new welcome center (finally replacing the ancient trailers) and a field house that will afford more indoor space for sports and performances and serve well during heat waves and rainy days. As for creating a Jewish atmosphere at camp, throughout the camp, pavilions, pools and sports arenas are labeled by both their Hebrew and English names. Facts about famous Jews, Israel history, and Jewish values pop up throughout the camp.

“They’re learning about what is wonderful about being Jewish and it teaches Judaism from a values perspective in a nonthreatening and welcoming way,” he said.

Less splashy but vitally important to the camp’s future, the dam holding back the lake was secured following a massive storm in 2004 that brought major flooding to every body of water in the Medford area with the exception of the camp lake.

Although Greenberg has mixed feelings about leaving, he is excited for the opportunity to use what he’s learned at Medford to strengthen the 138 Jewish camps across North America. The job is based at JCC headquarters in New York City, but he will mostly be working from home while spending part of the year in Israel selecting and training the shlichim, counselors who serve as ambassadors for Israel at the camps. His role will also include working with philanthropic foundations to secure the future of Jewish camping.

Meanwhile, the Katz JCC is in the midst of a national search for Greenberg’s replacement and will likely announce the new director this fall, said Les Cohen, JCC executive director.

“Although it’s a great loss to us to have Aaron move on, he is so well suited for his new position as the camp consultant for the JCC Association that he will be able to continue to help us in that position, as well as helping the entire field of Jewish camping,” said Cohen. “It’s been a pleasure watching him up there because he knows so many of the children by name, whole families, and in some cases he knows more than one generation. Under his leadership, the facilities at camp have grown in a way that benefits the entire community; there’s more indoor space, more specialty areas and he has created a beautiful ambience.” .

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