Sarah Raful Whinston, MAJCS/MPA ’05: Where Did All the Talent Go? - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Sarah Raful Whinston, MAJCS/MPA ’05: Where Did All the Talent Go?

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Monday, May 6, 2019

Sarah Raful WhinstonSarah Raful Whinston, MAJCS/MPA ’05, is a Search Consultant at DRG Search. Connect with her via LinkedIn or email her at

I loved my time at HUC-JIR’s Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (then School of Jewish Communal Service). The teachers were outstanding, smart, full of warmth, and gave each student the time he or she needed to be successful. They knew each of us; they placed us in fantastic internships, and they gave us mentors for life.

When I graduated from the MAJCS/MPA program, I became the Assistant Director of a Jewish sleepaway camp. I was then promoted to be the Associate Director and then, with the mentorship and guidance of my camp director, I became the Executive of another sleepaway camp, my lifetime dream.

I was a camper, counselor, part of the summer leadership staff, and camp administration at Jewish sleepaway camps for 20 summers. As you can imagine, over that time I have seen many changes in the Jewish camping world. Yes, I could speak about the popularity of screens or posting pictures or specialty camps, but instead, I want to speak about talent. Finding excellent talent is what makes camps successful and I believe that finding talent is the most pressing issue in the camping world today.

For years, camp directors have stayed for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years in their leadership positions. And when they leave, there was always someone to take over from within the camping world. This system made it hard for a non-camp person to get that leadership role.

This must change. And here’s why.

Currently, the “rockstar” camp directors are not staying. For starters, the lifestyle is too arduous, the camper recruitment never stops, the travel and working on Sundays is constant. If that wasn’t enough, recruiting staff (and retaining over several seasons) is extremely difficult. Even though article upon article have been written about why campers should continue to go to camp and why people should have “camp” professional experience, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

What does the future look like for talent in Jewish sleepaway camps and camps in general? Where will we find leadership if assistant camp directors and camp directors are leaving too soon?

Clearly, we must look outside the camp world. We must create job descriptions that show the work a camp director must do is equivalent to a CEO in any other organization. Camp directors now need to have budgeting experience, business acumen, a facilities and operations background, human resources knowledge, the ability to fundraise, and the desire and know-how to partner with other agencies. This is the role of a CEO, and there are many qualified Jewish non-profit and for-profit professionals that can take the role on and do it well. Since the role of the camp director has changed, it means our pool of talent has widened. I know them. I work with them every day.

It’s time for Jewish camps to start thinking outside the box when finding talent. The world of talent is large, and my favorite part of my role as a non-profit search consultant is finding an extremely qualified candidate and then opening the organization’s eyes to discover their potential with that new leader and vice versa. Let’s open our eyes and find that talent!

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.