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From Sports Camp to Talmud Sleepaway Camp

Kutsher’s Sports Academy’s former Catskills location now Hasidic boys’ camp

Isabel Fattal
August 08, 2014

From intense sports to equally—if not more—intense Torah study, one summer camp site in Monticello, N.Y., has just about seen it all.

According to the New York Times, Rav Tov, aTalmud-centric summer camp for Hasidic boys, is operated on the property that formerly housed the well-known Kutcher’s Sports Academy, which relocated to Barrington, Mass, in 2006. Sports courts and fields are everywhere, but they’re no longer used by campers, who instead focus on learning.

Sports like basketball and baseball are not the point of a summer at Rav Tov, a camp for 3,000 Hasidic boys that is 90 miles north of New York City in the middle of what was once the Catskill borscht belt. Indeed, those sports are forbidden.

“Our rabbi doesn’t want it,” said Zelig Parnes, 13, who was dressed on a sunny July day in a black silken coat bound by a sash at the waist and a beaver homburglike hat that framed his long sidelocks.

With similar garb, Lazer Berkowitz, 13, agreed.

The result is a camp schedule that isn’t exactly brimming with typical summer fun—or sunshine.

Instead, these boys, ages 9 to 13, rise at 6:45 every morning and study the Torah or the Talmud before breakfast, eat and then study some more — a total of more than six hours throughout the day. They bend or sway animatedly over dog-eared volumes of the Talmud at long plywood desks and grapple with such questions as, in Zelig’s words, “If someone borrows a cow and the cow dies, does he have to pay the man who loaned it?” Almost no one is well tanned.

But the campers don’t seem to mind. According to camp manager Yoel Landau, the boys aren’t envious of the camp’s former tenants. “It’s a lot of fun,” Landau told the Times. “They don’t feel like they miss something. Their minds are busy all day.”

Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.