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Camp Stories

A humiliating first day, taking it outside for a showdown behind the bunk, the first stirrings of an urge for aliyah: readers’ stories of summer camp—and illustrations inspired by them

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Liana Finck

by Eileen Chupak Baranes, Camp Betar

I first went to Camp Betar in Neversink, N.Y., when I was about 14 years old. I went there with my best friend, Shushie, whose mother found the camp. I had no idea whatsoever about Zionism, but I knew it was a Jewish camp.

The first year we were in the Kanaim group, which was the oldest group. We were two teenage girls from the Bronx who were into boys and not much else. I loved it there. It was fun. The girls and guys were fun, and the counselors weren’t much older than we were.

Tisha B’Av came around. Whoever fasted was exempt from activities that day. So, of course Shushie and I fasted. We got bored sitting in the bunk, so we snuck out of camp and walked into Neversink, which was a small one-general-store town, to get supplies for after the fast. I remember buying a bottle of Mountain Dew and lots of munchies. Then we turned around and, to our surprise, saw all the head staff of camp in the store. Did we get in trouble! They confiscated what we bought and marched us back to the camp.

That night we had kitchen duty. We had to clean the kitchen and scrub down the stoves and ovens; it was terrible. We got so dirty and greasy; the showers in the bunks didn’t have hot water so we had to take a cold shower to get the shmutz off of us.

But don’t think that that was the end of our being bad. Our counselor, Barbara, didn’t know how to handle us. She just finished high school and was going away to college. We didn’t like her. One day we got a bucket of water, opened the door a little, and put it on the top of the door; we waited until she came in and she got the bucket of water on her head. For that she made a guy counselor take us on night maneuvers to scare us. But, please, we were from the Bronx (as a matter of fact so was he): Nothing scared us.

Until the end of camp I didn’t have a clue about Zionism. Then the guys from Machon L’Madrichim came back from Israel. They had light in their eyes. They were like magic. I can’t describe how I enjoyed listening to them talk of Israel and their experience and the Jewish destiny to live in Israel. After that I joined Betar and went to the meetings in the Bronx. Forty-six years after that I am still in Israel and do not have a moment’s regret.

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Vivian says:

I too went to a Camp Betar. It was in upstate NY but I don’t remember the name of the town as I was only 5 and 6 years old when I was there in 1943 and 1944. The camp was definitely run by the Revisionist (Herut) Zionists. A memorial tent for Jabotinsky was located at a central position in the camp and there were honor guards outside the tent on the eve and day of his yahrzeit.

We did a lot of marching to commands in Hebrew. The Hebrew was not a problem. The problem was that I still could not differentiate my left from my right.

As I was already well aquainted w/ the horrors of W.W.II and I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx I considered myself fortunate to be at a Jewish camp.

So, how did I turn out? The happiest years of my life were spent in Israel from 1959-63. My son and grandson were born there. I’m not a Likudnik but proud and, in some cases, understandingly tolerant of the cultural and religious diversity.

Fern Sidman says:

Great story, Eileen !! A classic Camp Betar experience. My first year at Camp Betar was back in 1971 when I was 11 and I was scared out of my mind. Had never been to sleep away camp before and it took a while to get used to the strange happenings and the Zionist fervor, but what I learned there helped to shape the person I’ve become and has impacted my life in a multitude of ways.

I cherish the memories of the 8 summers I spent there and the wonderful people I met and am grateful for the enduring friendships I’ve made. Just think, if we were all back in camp on this very day we’d be still getting to know each other as camp is only a few days old and we’d looking forward to the annual July 4th fireworks display on the misdar grounds.

Tel Chai to all fellow Betarim, both near and far who may be reading this.

My dad was in Beitar before WWII and I recall him telling me about the “Tel Hai” greeting. Had no idea they had a camp.

Fast forward to 1972, Camp Herzl, Webster, WI. It was rural, to be sure, but by no means scenic. Herzl is situated on freezing Devil’s Lake, which I was happy not to have to stick so much as my toe in for the entire three weeks, and was plagued by mud and mosquitoes. The big campout was on a piece of sharp-grass terrain known as — are you ready? — Klugman Acres (right. In rural Wisconsin). Also heard the scary tale of the local madman.

The sewage system at Herzl was apparently not built for the size population that was using it, and the girls’ bathrooms were constantly getting blocked, presumably with toilet paper and female sanitary supplies. The camp administration’s solution? They confiscated our toilet paper, which reappeared magically on Visitors’ Day.

God the place should’ve been shut down by the Health Board. Ditto for Camp Tel Yehuda, where I worked in the 1980s. The entire camp is rotting wood and peeling linoleum situated in a charmless cleft between the polluted Delaware River and some cliffs. Are any Jewish camps scenic?

Eric C. Bauman says:

Ah, sweet memories of Nevers(t)ink, NY. My summers there in the late ’60′s bring mostly fond memories. Somehow at age 10 I became the camp plumber – perfect preparation for my life today in politics!

Amazingly the lessons I learned in how to be a Jew still sit with me; I learned to Daven, be a proud Jew and I developed a reverence for Eretz Yisrael,a reverence that remains even as I am a political liberal/progressive. Betar helped instill a deep level of Yiddishkite in me that remains to this day.

Betarim Tel Chai!

Eric C. Bauman

Bill Pearlman says:

Hi guys, the “wall” here. Had a terrific time at Camp Betar. Would do it again in a minute. And has a matter of fact had dinner a few weeks ago with some of the guys from Fair Lawn. 35 years and we still crack up at some of the stories.

Love the mix of 3D “stuff”, scanning and writing Bravo!


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Camp Stories

A humiliating first day, taking it outside for a showdown behind the bunk, the first stirrings of an urge for aliyah: readers’ stories of summer camp—and illustrations inspired by them

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