Of all institutions in the Jewish world, Jewish summer camp has been credited as being the number '1' most impactful, identity building experience. In recent times in Hungary, Camp Szarvas has been central to reinvigorating Jewish life across Eastern Europe.
Jewish camp was a major influence in my own life’s trajectory. So, when Jeff and I learned of Jacob's Camp in the South, we knew Tour To The Wonderful would be spending a night there.
Just after midnight, Seymour the van rolled down a long dark road in rural Mississippi. Though the road sign indicated a turn to the left would bring us to Jacob's Camp it would be several more miles driving under a canopy of mature trees before we’d pull up to the gate. As the gate swung open, my own camp days flashed in front of my eyes. l felt like a kid again! The excitement was building but it was dark and we were exhausted from a full day meeting many Real Heroes. We were ready to tuck in.
When the sun rose we explored our simple, rustic surroundings. We were delighted to see the lake, ropes course, בית ספורט gymnasium, חדר אכל mess hall, bunks and even a chicken. Then we met Anna, the enthusiastic camp director and her kibbutznik husband Nadav, who are integral to bringing rich Jewish experiences to so many Southern kids. And though a session can be pricy, they'll never turn anyone away. The Herman’s live on camp grounds year round with their energetic dog Delta, who happily entertained us with a ball. Nadav and Anna were so proud to tell the story of how in the 1970’s this Jewish community camp was envisioned and birthed, creating a legacy that is thriving today. (Have you heard of Honi the Circle Maker?)
This had been a strange season, covid made it impossible for kids to attend this year. As a camp kid I could certainly relate. Camp is where life long friendships are born. Camp is what got me through each school year. As a matter of fact, one year the day before I was to be dropped off at camp I wiped out in a bike accident. I could hardly even walk, but I wouldn't miss a day of camp, even if it meant living in the infirmary. Not being able to go to camp would have been devastating, and I feel for all those 2020 campers who missed out.
(Can you pick Mindy out in the photo above from 1974?)
And as Anna looked toward next summer, she paused to remember Lou Ginsburg, a surrogate mother for an entire generation of Southern Jews who sadly had recently passed. Camp is about the people, and Lou had been one of those giants.
This week, a giant from my own camp days at Tel Yehudah in Barryville, NY, Mel Reisfield, z”l, passed. Though Lou and Mel led different camps, each of these luminaries were towering figures who influenced tens of thousands of campers. May their memories serve as inspiration to each of us to find a way to light a path for others.
You're invited to read more about how Southern Circle Makers of the 70's built Jacobs Camp: Here.