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October 18, 2017

Renaming a growing and much-loved organization

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik

When the Jewish Reconstructionist movement opened its first summer camp in 2002, the camp took the name of its parent organization: the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation opened Camp JRF. The name was always meant to be a placeholder and, through the years, we’ve had many conversations about the need to change it (especially when the founding organization merged with another organization). At the same time, we’ve found that – over the course of fifteen summers – more and more members of the extended Jewish community came to know our name.

So how did we decide that this was the right moment to make a change? When we first began our work with Big Duck, we didn’t expect it (in fact, we explicitly said that it wouldn’t happen!). Rather, we began a year-long process of focusing on our key messaging and communications strategy. We wanted to figure out what, at the core, we most wanted people to know about us. Working with an incredible team of Ducks, we came to the following:

We are all about the joy of summer camp with the freedom to be who you truly are. In our incredibly diverse and accepting community, all kids—no matter their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, or Jewish background—are more than welcomed. They’re celebrated!

We’re a Reconstructionist community where campers are encouraged to explore traditions and today’s world to discover what being Jewish means to them. Their different experiences and perspectives are a big part of what makes our camp so amazing.

With this statement in hand, and having just been accepted into the Foundation for Jewish Camp Specialty Camps Incubator to open a second camp, it became clearer and clearer – despite our original protestations – that the time for a new name had arrived. Why? Because, quite simply, the old one didn’t really share with the world what makes us, us. It spoke of our history, but not of our future. And it missed an opportunity to lead with our core values as we looked to grow and strengthen our organization. So after more than a decade of talking about it, we finally decided to jump in!

When we sat together with Big Duck, we had a lot on our mind:

  • The name had to work for our current campers, staff, and families, as well as our alumni, donors, and friends. And it also had to work for potential campers and families now and in the future. This meant it couldn’t be too kid-focused or too heady, too Jewish or too mainstream, too kitschy or too traditional; it really had to be a little bit of everything to everybody.
  • With a new arts-focused camp set to open in summer 2018, we needed a name that could grow with us as we look to reach out to different communities across North America. There was a lot of pressure to balance this need with the previous one, ensuring that we chose a name that would work for two distinct (yet deeply connected) camps with two different programs and cultures on two opposite sides of the country. And don’t forget – one of them wouldn’t open for another year!
  • While some long-time supporters suggested keeping JRF and changing what it stands for (“Just Really Fun,” “Jewish Reconstructionist Future,” and “Jaguars Run Free” were among my favorites), we ultimately decided that we wanted to move away from an acronym that had lost its original meaning.
  • After much discussion, we determined that we could choose a name in Hebrew if that was the best fit … so long as it was easy enough to pronounce. That meant no guttural letters!
  • The name couldn’t be used by other camps or similar programs, or by organizations that might have significantly different values from ours.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we wanted a name that would tell people who we are and “how we be.” This meant finding something that showcased our values, felt like us, and helped us stand out from the crowd.

The brainstorming process was fun and, at times, nerve-wracking. (What if we made the wrong choice?) We asked various stakeholders for input and ideas and talked also with our board and with leadership of the Reconstructionist movement. We came up with all sorts of wild ideas – some of which led to really interesting conversations and thought processes. (And some of which gave us a good laugh!) At every step along the way, we came back to our communications strategy and the question of whether the name would help us get that message out into the world.

This process of returning to the strategy was incredibly helpful … but it also had its challenges. Being laser-focused means that we can’t do everything and we can’t be everything to everybody. While this decision has been a core component of our growth strategy, members of our board have at times shared concerns that this buries some of our historical strengths and foci. Although this sparked some difficult conversations around the board table, it ultimately led the board to a deeper understanding of, and commitment to, our key goals.

After much work and collaboration, we came to a name that excited all of us – Camp Havaya. When we shared this with our camp community, here’s some of what we said:

In Hebrew, “havaya” (with an ‘h’ sound at the beginning) means “being.” A name is central to an organization’s identity and choosing this particular name serves as a powerful statement that, at our core, we’re all about creating an environment where kids have the freedom to be who they truly are. We love that it’s a play on “how we be”; on the Hebrew word “khavaya” (with a ‘kh’ sound at the beginning), which means “experience”; and on the Hebrew word “hoveh / the present time,” reminding us that being our best selves isn’t something we aspire to in the future – it’s something we do right now. Over the last number of years, “how we be” has brought this to life … and now so does our new name.

While change is never easy, the response we’ve received for the new name has been overwhelmingly positive. One of our board members, who had made a significant financial commitment to supporting our brandraising process, said that seeing everything come together was incredibly gratifying and it made her feel her donation had been put to really good use. And one of our other long-time supporters shared his enthusiasm beautifully: “I like the new name … and most important I like that it was the process of understanding your core values that brought you to this place.”

This past summer, when we talked with our campers about the new name and the process that got us to this point, they asked all sorts of questions, from how it would impact the camp song to whether there would be new t-shirts. But my favorite question was from a camper who asked how the new name would change the camp experience. With a smile, I said to him simply: it won’t. This new name changes nothing about who we are deep down – it just helps us share that inner beauty with the world.

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik is executive director of Camp Havaya and Havaya Arts. A version of this post appeared on Jeducation World.

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