New JORI director believes in the magic of Jewish summer camps

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Ricky Kodner is a camp guy. He believes there’s no better place for a Jewish kid in the summer than at a Jewish camp.

“Every kid should be going to summer camp,” he says. “Every Jewish leader I know went to camp, was a counselor or was some kind of administrator at camp. Camp just gives kids so much confidence.

“I just love camp.” 

That’s a good thing for the Camp JORI community.

Kodner is the new director of Camp JORI, in Wakefield. The St. Louis native has been on the job since mid-November. Right now, he’s meeting community members and talking to JORI camp families, staff and alums about this coming summer.

Kodner says he’s learning a lot about the camp through all these conversations. His aim right now is to continue Camp JORI as it’s always been, a place for kids to have maximum fun while also learning. And he says the staff will work as a team to accomplish that.

“I’m not going to do anything magical,” he said. “I’m operating under best practices.”

Kodner seems to have boundless energy, which will serve him well once the camp season starts in June. He says he doesn’t need a lot of sleep. His philosophy, he says, is, “I’m the last one to bed and the first one awake. Instead of in my office, I will be out participating, and when everybody’s in bed, I’ll do my paperwork.”

That way, Kodner says, when a parent calls with an issue, he’ll know the answer. He believes that communication is critical in the operation of camps.

In St. Louis, Kodner was director of Camp Ben Frankel for more than six years and the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky. He was also the board president of the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Synagogue in the St. Louis area.

Kodner said he came to Rhode Island because he wanted to run a bigger camp, and was attracted to JORI because it has many of the same philosophies as Camp Ben Frankel: It’s family-oriented and pluralistic. Even the parent handbook is similar, he said.

Kodner especially likes the idea of unplugging, a philosophy that many larger camps don’t embrace. “Camp is a place for kids to be unplugged, to teach them new things,” he said. “You can’t do that while you are plugged into technology.”

An alum of JCC day camps and overnight camps, Kodner believes that every child should have the camp experience.

“It just builds so much self-confidence and independence,” he said.

Kodner’s wife, Gail, is a freelance architect. He said they are looking forward to traveling in New England to see places they’ve talked about but never been. He loves the ocean; she loves the mountains. Now they’ll be within driving distance of both.

The Kodners have twin sons who attend the University of Missouri-Columbia.  And, yes, their sons went to camp.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice.