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How Herzl Prepared Me For Traveling: What’s Going On?

April 11, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, General Posts, Letters from Alumni, What I Learned from Camp.

Jonah with his host brother in Argentina

By: Jonah Sloven (B’yachad staff ’11, Outdoor Activities Coordinator ’12)

Editor’s Note: Given that Jonah spent so much time digging in the Herzl Gan Kehilati (Community Garden), it is no surprise that he founded a sustainable edible landscaping business in Des Moines called DigDesMoines. Oh, yeah, and he also recently graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in Environmental Studies.

Ha’atid summer of ’99 was my first taste of freedom outside of home. Finally no parents, no chores and a change in the weekly, and in my nine-year-old opinion, repetitive dinner menu we had at home. Ever since then I haven’t slowed down in my travels and looking back Herzl was more a part of this path than I thought.

For starters, sleeping in a cabin with bunk beds filled with new friends is good preparation to travel. In my 6 months backpacking South America I spent countless nights in overcrowded hostels, only this time hoping there were no raids or unexpected lights out activities when trying to sleep. But there is something bigger that camp instilled in me, and that’s being okay with uncertainties.

Jonah with friends at a coffee and mango farm in Peru

For a camper the whole day is filled with uncertainties, most apparent when the whole Chadar is chanting “what’s going on” repetitively after an elaborate shtick to announce a teva (overnight) or evening program. But even small things like where to sit at meals and where to spend free time are questions that can wear you down a bit. The trick to enjoying the day is to just let go and be okay with not knowing everything. It’s the same for traveling. During my trip I volunteered on numerous farms with strangers, many of who barely spoke English. Traveling by bus hundreds of miles (the longest being 27 hours) and unsure of where and when we will arrive, everything is unknown. That feeling of eagerness and anticipation to meet the next host seemed oddly familiar to waiting to meet my new bunkmates after riding the bus to camp from Minneapolis. Even though my hosts weren’t as visibly excited for my arrival as the screaming counselors filling the Ulam, they made us feel at home all the same. It was such a sigh of relief after setting off into the unknown and having to rely on strangers for everything you need. Sounds like those first thoughts running through my head as my mom left me at the bus that first summer.  But just like with camp the rewards are worth the risk.

After 5 days of hiking in Peru

Without having faith in others and in my own navigation and smarts I would never have had the thrilling and distinct adventures I have had today. At every stop I was taken in and treated as part of family. They showed me that they cared for me because even though I was in a completely foreign environment I was open and willing to go out of my comfort zone to learn from them.  For me Argentina, Chile, Peru and Columbia are now more than just a place I have visited but now I have a home and family to return to, to create new memories and laugh about old ones… just like at Herzl Camp.

Shabbat Shalom

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Is it Summer Yet?

April 8, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Staff.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager

I love living in the Midwest. I really do. I love the change of seasons. I love the “fake out” that mother nature gives everyone when there is a a surprise 60 degree day in the middle of February. I love the sound of the snowmelt running into the storm drains. I love how you can tell that the seasons are changing just by breathing in the air. I love how 95% of social media posts are about the weather during the change of any season. “Ugh, snow AGAIN”, “WHY, Mother Nature, Why?”, “I’m moving down south”, “It’s too cold”, “It’s too hot”…each of these statements followed by the appropriate number of exclamation marks or question marks (or a combination of both). I admit it…on occasion, I have shared my thoughts about the weather on social media.

It’s around this time of the year when everything shifts towards the long anticipated warm up. There is not a pair of longs and longs to be found on the rack in any store. Commercials are featuring the hottest new lawn product. Patio furniture and the cutest, most adorable bright plastic lemonade pitchers have replaced the rows and rows of Trapper Keepers and sleds in Target. Grocery store end caps are overflowing with boxes of Matzo and packages of Peeps. People start getting a little overly excited for spring and often mistake a yellow candy wrapper on the ground for a daffodil.

Last week, the Midwest obviously didn’t get the memo about the change of seasons. Our shoe racks were a perfect representation of the transition from winter to spring (at least for those of us living in MN)…Crocs, sandals and hiking shoes are nestled up against boots, mittens and scarves. You hear adults and children asking the same questions, “Is it winter? Is it spring? Can I go outside with shorts on if I’m wearing my boots? If I dress in enough layers, do I REALLY have to wear a hat? Do I NEED to wear my mittens? Can I take the 500 pounds of kitty litter out of my trunk now?” I think (hope) it is safe to put the ice scraper back in your garage. Though, you may want to keep it in your trunk because, well, you just never know.

The transition from spring to summer is less drastic and a little more blurred. For some, the beginning of summer is associated with specific date on the calendar, the last day of school or even when they see certain flowers blooming in their garden. But, camp people are different. Camp people start celebrating summer in very unique and different ways.

When does summer really officially begin? Just ask a camp person.

When the first white clothing is on sale at your local department store

When the campers board the buses for the first session

When staff and ozrim high five the campers as they get off the bus in front of the Ulam

When you receive your colored luggage tags from the Herzl Camp office

When the buses roll into camp on the first day of first session

When you buy your bright and shiny new summer water bottle

When you learn to make your first friendship bracelet

When you write a letter to your child and mail it to camp…2 weeks before they arrive

When your child picks out his/her first day of camp outfit…2 months in advance

When you meet the entire Herzl Camp kehilah (community) in the flag circle on the first day of camp

When you enter the Ulam with your new friend from the bus…eagerly awaiting your cabin assignment

When you meet your cabinmates, bunk staff and ozrim

When you do the last minute, late-night trip to Target the night before your child leaves for camp…and run into several other parents doing the same thing

When Drea Lear teaches you the words to Od Lo Achalnu before your first dinner at camp

When your child says, “Mom I NEED purple, orange, green, red, blue and yellow shorts for camp.”

When you experience your first spaghetti dinner in the Chadar

When you sing, “Here’s to Dear Old Herzl” as you turn from Highway 35 into camp

When your counselors sing you to sleep on your very first night of camp

Here’s to an amazing Summer 2014!!!

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On The Waterfront…With Flip Frisch

March 28, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Flip Frisch

To go back to camp in your 40’s is to live in the dream of your nostalgia. To come face to face with your memories. To see ghosts of your old friends and of your old self everywhere you look. For the past few summers I’ve been doing just that.

I finished singing a cabin to sleep one lights out, and leaving I noticed the full moon. The cold wind meant a storm was headed in, so even though it was only my second-to-last night there I headed to the mercaz to see the moonlight on the water. I didn’t know how long it would be until I would be there again. So I watched the waves touched with silver on that beautiful lake ringed with dark trees. And I remembered.

My first experience with Devils Lake was rough. I was ten years old and failing my swim test. The lake seemed so big then, or I was so small. But it got better, and I learned to swim. There was a pontoon breakfast. We poured milk on tiny boxes of Cheerios and tried not to dribble on our life jackets. I can still feel the damp, scratchy, astro-turf of the pontoon floor as we ate our cereal on the peaceful rocking water, feeling a world away from the crowded chadar back on shore. The beach used to be large enough (and camp small enough) that we all watched the fireworks from the sand. Mary Baumgarten fell off the omega slide. We played greased watermelon. I saw the sun rise over the lake into a sky the color of a bonfire, on that bittersweet last morning of Kadimah ‘86. In a few hours, I thought, Kadimah will be over and this group of people will never all be in the same place at the same time again. And we never have been.

I participated in Lake Swim chug a number of times as a staff member. It’s one of the few activities in which your progress is so apparent, your sense of accomplishment measured in strokes as the pylons of the mercaz get closer and closer and you finally cross the rope buoy and emerge onto the shores of Herzl Camp, victorious and with legs shaking. I once invented a story and told it to Cara Greene as we swam. Another summer I set a personal record of 1:16 (somewhat longer than the 15 minutes it took Sharon Makowsky that year). Once I swam with the slow group and ended up accompanying the very last camper, his dog-paddle underscoring his dogged determination. It took us three and a half hours. He turned down offers to ride in the boat, and pushed on. I remember his spirit but not his name. If I met him today I would thank him for being so inspiring.

The ‘93 Ozrim sang “These are the Days” and then fell backward in formation into the water. Beth Altman and I discovered you cannot simultaneously laugh and swim. Aaron Gelperin and I challenged each other to lay in the shallows and let the minnows nibble us. Rachel Singer and I tried to see who could jump farther off the floating docks. We were adults; we were children.

My most cherished memory of the lake is the night of July 4th, 2001. While the rest of camp sat on the Mercaz, Teva Trek floated in the cool water directly below the fireworks display. Fire in the sky reflected on the water. Darkness and light all around us.

I was away from Herzl Camp for nearly a decade, and when I returned it was with my then 2 year-old daughter, Scout. She spent hours playing in the sand, collecting snail shells. Gal Tzuri took us out sailing. Ilan Gordon helped her to be less afraid of the water. I can’t describe the joy it gave me to watch her have these experiences. She is nearly 5 now and has forgotten a lot of things from our time together at Herzl. But she still remembers the waterfront.

Devils Lake is probably frozen right now, covered with snow. Maybe not frozen solid enough to drag a collapsing cabin onto the ice and burn it, removing a hazard as Dave Burland did one winter in the 1980’s. According to legend. But I’ve never seen it in the winter. For me, Devils Lake only exists from the chilly days of early June through melancholy mid-August when the last moments of summer camp evaporate.

It’s been a difficult winter for me and I wish, more than anything, that I could swim once more in the clear smooth water and feel the sun on my shoulders. I wish I could hear another waterfront director giving first day instructions to new campers in flip flops and wrapped in towels. Their memories of Devils Lake are just beginning. I wish I could smell a beachside cookout grilling, I wish I could tread carefully on the rocks and take a canoe out. I wish I could watch my wet footprints dry and vanish on the hot boards of the dock. And do it all over again.

Shabbat Shalom.


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Herzl Ways of Being

March 21, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Zach Puchtel

It’s now been 10 years since I’ve been to camp as a counselor. Significant time has passed that I can now officially reminisce on my experience without an emotional attachment, good luck.

What struck me the other day, as I was thinking of the subject for this blog, was how everyone is when they’re at camp. There’s a magic to the movement and interaction that can only be described as otherworldly when you enter this place that encourages you to yell, dance and live to heart’s desire.

With all this emotional fevery, it’s easy to be swept away in the romance of the thing…

One tool I’ve found to be useful in reaching and then sustaining these states of bliss, is setting my intention. If I’m going out, and my intention is have a really good time, then it almost always will happen. If, however, I allow my intention and vision to be filled with anxiety or other fearful emotions, I will likely find myself in that state as well.

I used to set my intention every day for 365 days leading up to camp. I had a daily countdown to the tune of “Hot Cereal” with Jared Steyaert in the halls of Hopkins West Jr High that cried, “365 more days, 365 more days, 365 more days…” Some days were harder to fit into melody than others, and most people thought we as 8th graders had already lost our grip on reality. Truth was, we were exploring the power of being intent on an outcome, in our case, the next summer being the greatest experience of our lives.

And guess what? It worked, every single time.

As children we unknowingly just got excited about how awesome the next summer was going to be, as if it had already happened and all we had to do was show up to camp for the magic to suddenly appear before us!

Thinking of camp, of the cheer and pure joy of community, reminds me that that same bliss, that same love and that same communal magic is possible everywhere, with everyone. Currently I’m living in Santa Monica, California, experiencing Mobs of Love and movements with much of the same ruach that I was first touched by at camp. Two months ago, 400 love warriors peace-marched into the Grove in West Hollywood and sang “All You Need is Love” until our voices went out; it was beautiful.

I’ll always think fondly of Herzl as the place I found my ruach. It hones passion and love, and teaches us all to express openly and without fear, something we can all use in our lives.

It’s easy as children to run freely without care. The real challenge is keeping that innocence as an adult, being able to balance responsibility with unadulterated joy for life. I’m here to tell you it’s possible, and to remind you to hope and dream in your adult lives just as you did when you were a camper staring at the stars on the Mercaz.

Peace, Love and Shabbat Shalom.


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Good Old Fashioned Fun!

March 14, 2014 by , under General Posts.

By: Alex Locke

One thing that can always be said for me is that I like to have fun. So, what better way to have fun than a good old fashioned game? Below you will find 20 scrambled words or phrases related to Herzl Camp. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to be the first person to unscramble them. The first person to the complete list of all 20 words unscrambled correctly, wins…an actual prize!

If you get stuck on one or two, ask your friends or make a comment on the blog. Remember, there actually is a prize that will be mailed to one lucky winner. So, go ahead…give it a shot and let’s see who wins. Spelling does count, so type carefully when entering your answers.

Submit your completed list in a comment on this blog. Contest closes on Thursday, March 20.

Have fun, and away we go…

1. C R E A M Z

2. O E M R Y A R S

3. Z O O / K R A P

4. F R N A T W O R T E

5. T U N A A M

6. Z R I T F

7. R O D W L / G E E U L A

8. H A M D I A K

9. A A V R N C A

10. S T R E W B E

11. H S R O / P T S O R

12. A R A H D C

13. N T A O R

14. I C I P C N / U H N C L

15. T W E S H I

16. O R H D T O E

17. S A H K

18. A T C H U N

19. C I H D A R M

20. B T A H B A S

Shabbat Shalom!


What I Love About Taste of Herzl

March 7, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Letters from Campers, Letters from Staff.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager

Editor’s Note: Recently, we asked a few former “Tasters” (campers in our Taste of Herzl program) about their experience at camp. Some of these campers were in Taste as recently as 2013 and others were in Taste way back in the summer of 2008….all of them have been attending Herzl ever since their Taste summer.  And, they will all be back in Webster again this summer! 

HERZL: Tell us about the best part of being in Taste of Herzl?

DYLAN (Taster 2013): Awesome. It’s totally awesome. The best week of my life! My only wish was that it lasted longer!

JENNA (Taster 2008): Finally being at sleep away camp! I loved how independent I felt.

MARI (Taster 2010): Trying a little bit of everything, just like the name suggests. Breakfast was amazing because everyone was so full of energy!

HANNAH (Taster 2013): Meeting new friends – especially the ones from a different state.

COLE (Taster 2011): Hanging out with friends, laughing and having lots of fun activities.

HERZL: How did it feel being at camp for the first time?

MIA (Taster 2010): My first experience of being a camper which I was so excited for since I saw my sisters get to be campers for years before me.

MARI (Taster 2010): It felt really grown up to go to a different state without my family…for a whole week.

HANNAH (Taster 2013): Exciting and a little nervous.

COLE (Taster 2011): It felt a little nervous at the beginning but the moment I got assigned my cabin, the fun began!

HERZL: What did you learn at camp?

JENNA (Taster 2008): All the camp cheers and many new Hebrew songs.

MARI (Taster 2010): How the routine of camp worked, all the Herzl cheers and Birkat Hamazon.

HANNAH (Taster 2013): New songs, dances and cheers!

COLE (Taster 2011): I learned lots of prayers with unique tunes that made it fun to sya. I also learned new cheers that brought out ruach in me that I never knew I had.

HERZL: Did you make any new friends or best friends because of Herzl?

MIA (Taster 2010): I met a cool girl from Hawaii and we have been friends since our Noar year – how cool is that! Spring vacation destination!

JENNA (Taster 2008): My first out-of-town friends. I met a girl on the bus who is now one of my best friends.

MARI (Taster 2010): I went to camp only knowing two girls. Now my very best five friends in the world are fellow campers.

COLE (Taster 2011): I have met a lot of new friends – some even from Kansas – and became closer with my friends I already had.

HERZL: What is your favorite thing about Herzl Camp?

MIA (Taster 2010): The weirdest kid can also be the coolest kid at camp!

JENNA (Taster 2008): What isn’t my favorite thing!? But, in all seriousness, I love getting to meet new friends from all over the country.

MARI (Taster 2010): Seriously? You are making me pick one? I like Shabbat the most for these three reasons: 1: The caravan is really fun because you’re with your friends singing and having fun. 2) I also like song session because it’s nice to have it be really quiet and sing songs with the rest of camp. 3) I like Saturday mornings because you can usually sleep in later and the cinnamon rolls are amazing and it’s one of my favorite camp traditions.

HANNAH (Taster 2013): Everything.

COLE (Taster 2011): EVERYTHING!

Campers in the Taste of Herzl program get a chance to sample many of our daily activities and programs. It gives them a true “taste” of everything that Herzl has to offer. In addition to sampling activities, the Tasters become comfortable with the daily schedule and camp traditions, develop new friendships, experience a camp Shabbat together and get to know the larger camp kehilah (community).

Living in a cabin together with other children and counselors for one week gives them a chance to really grow and take more responsibility. Two-time Taste staff member Andrew Lifson has seen so many campers develop life skills just by living in a cabin. “I have seen campers develop skills such as table manners and living space cleanliness and taking more responsibility. All of these skills are so important in everyday life and I believe Taste really builds those skills,” says, Andrew. According to Associate Director Drea Lear, “Every camper grows and gains independence in some way at camp. The beautiful thing is that each child’s camp experience is truly unique to them and helps them grow and see things in a new way.”

Note: To learn more about Taste, please check out our website and then feel free to call us at 952-927-4002. 

Shabbat Shalom!

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An Interview with Our Campers

February 28, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Campers, What I Learned from Camp.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager

Editor’s Note: 2013 Kadimah campers Lee and Josh spent an afternoon at the Herzl Camp office for their high school career day. They spent time with each staff member so they could learn more about what goes on at Herzl in the winter. When they stopped by my office, I gave them the opportunity to share their Herzl stories. 

AS: What program did you first attend at camp?

Josh: Taste 2007

Lee: Taste 2008

AS: Think about when you boarded the bus for Taste. What were you feeling?

Josh: I vividly remember saying to my family as I got on the bus, “Bye, I’ll see you in a week.” The bus pulled out and I noticed another kid crying so I started to cry too. It wasn’t a bad kind of cry…I cried because he was crying. Before I left for camp, my sister told me (and it ended up being true), “You are going to cry on the way there and you are going to cry on the way back.” The second part has been true almost every year.

Lee: I was super excited and scared at the same time. I was sitting next to a friend and we were both giggling together on the bus. Ozo Josh Savitt sat next to us and talked to us for a half an hour. We had a great time. Talking to him just made us feel happy.  He ended up being my Ozo that summer in Taste.

AS: Why do you choose Herzl vs. any other summer activity?

Josh: I go back because of the community. Everybody loves everybody there. I did question it (whether or not I should go back) some summers but ended up going. I’m so glad that I went back because it prepared me for the real world community.

Lee:  Herzl has been such a huge part of my life. Other than my Israel year, I can’t see myself choosing not to go to Herzl…ever. If someone asked me to name my favorite place on earth, the first place I’d say would be Herzl.

AS: Have you heard people talk about “the magic of Herzl”? If so, what does that mean?

Josh: Entering another world…in a sense. The door to that Herzl world is literally the entrance of Ulam when you get off the buses. The tunnel of Ozrim and staff greeting you…it’s amazing. You sit down in the Ulam and everyone is cheering and singing…you hear the sound of voices mixed together and you know that the next several weeks are going to be magical.

Lee: To me, the magic of Herzl is when you are on the bus and you start singing the Herzl song on your way in to camp. Right when you start singing the song and pass through the gate you KNOW that the next few weeks are going to be the best that you’ve ever lived.

What have you learned at (or because of) Herzl?

Josh: I learned the meaning of family that’s not blood family. I learned to care about and respect kids who are around you.  Even though you might not be the best of friends with everyone, you still feel a connection with them. The connection might be a friend in common or because you are in the same cabin or just the fact that both of you are at the same camp. A chain of community is extremely important for a human to have a good time.

At camp, I learned to be myself. During chug sign up, everyone was choosing different sports chugim while I was signing up for drama games, guitar, etc. No matter what I did during the day, I knew I would come back to my cabin and be with my friends after chugim. That was good enough for me. I didn’t have to pick between being with my friends (in other chugim that they liked but I didn’t) and doing what I wanted…I could do both.

Lee: I learned who I am as a person…as a Jewish person, as a friend, as a leader. During the summer, you get to choose if you are going to be the kind of camper who listens to what they learned from their staff or if you are going to be the kind of camper who stands in the back and just throws the Frisbee around and doesn’t listen. I learn more about myself when I’m at camp than during the rest of the year.

Editor’s Note: After the initial interview, I gave Lee and Josh the opportunity to interview one another.

Josh: Lee, what is your favorite memory of Herzl Camp?

Lee: This past summer, on one of the first days of Kadimah, my counselor Jeff Lifson came up to me during lunch and said, “Follow me outside…you are not in trouble.” He then asked me to play a big role in the Kadimah wall. He wanted me to go up the wall second and then stay up at the top and help pull everyone else over the wall. I was very excited because I was always so amazed watching the Kadimah wall. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had!

Josh: Why?

Lee: Because (this sounds selfish) but it made me feel important for a little while.

Josh: It played to your strengths.

Lee: It was very cool to be asked by a counselor to be a big part of something. I can remember where everyone was standing in the crowd. I remember where my sister was standing. It was one of my best and favorite days in Kadimah.

Lee: What was your favorite year of Herzl?

Josh: It’s a really hard one.

Lee: I understand.

Josh: There were summers that I loved and they consisted of my favorite memories. But, I have to say that my favorite summer was Kadimah. Every summer just gets better. It was almost like going to Taste again because I was with so many kids I didn’t know. They were Herzl Campers who just attended different sessions than I did when we were younger.

It was the first time for us to meet. It was like a new camp experience to have all kids from various sessions merge together in Kadimah. I told my counselor that I met this new kid and he said told me the “new kid” wasn’t actually new…it was just that we were never campers at the same time. Thinking that there are other Herzl kids who we don’t know exist, is very cool.

Lee: Were there one or two staff members or campers who made this your favorite year?

Josh: Yes. I spent a lot of time with Abby Kirshbaum and the Kadimah play staff. It made my summer being a big part of the play. Noah Rubin was another one. Pruch (aka: David Pruchno) was great. He was a live-in for our cabin but he was like one of our counselors. Hanging out with the Potashim was fun too.

AS: Do you want to answer your own questions now?

Josh: Yes. My favorite Herzl memory comes from a summer I wasn’t in love with. I had an ear infection and it was hard to being in the loud room during a Rick Recht concert. My counselor, Eli Witkin, took me outside to the sports field to get away from the noise and to look at the constellations. That made me realize that camp is a different place…it is a special place.

Lee: My favorite year was definitely Kadimah. I feel like I always come out a better person and understand myself better after camp. I feel like this year, I matured the most than I ever had. It was just the most fun because there are so many things that make Kadimah unique…the play, the wall, the canoe trip, etc. It was just an amazing summer.

Lee: Josh, what is your idea of the perfect day at Herzl?

Josh: It would start off with one of my favorite Herzl breakfasts…the coffee cake. I put it in a bowl and then I put milk on it. There is nothing that compares to it here at home. Love that. We would have great t’fillot…no one interrupting. We would be able to DO the program that our counselors spent time working on.

Lee: Edible Israel…always a solid program.

Josh: After that, I’d go through my normal chugim. Lunch would be wild and crazy but I wouldn’t lose my voice. We’d have a great minucha and a tzrif time that compares to nothing else. Something that a counselor thought would be so cool if every kid participated in it. Dinner would be fun…but not as fun as lunch. After dinner would be free time…I’d be sitting at the mercaz with a guitar and a bunch of friends. Evening program would be something along the lines of a great story program rather than just doing an activity. Of course we would have an amazing lights out followed by time to talk about our day with cabin mates. And then, waking up and knowing it’s all going to happen again.

Editor’s Note: Sounds like the perfect day, Josh! Thanks to Josh and Lee for sharing their stories and memories with me!

Shabbat Shalom.

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Herzl Camp is the Best Camp in…Herzl Camp!

February 7, 2014 by , under General Posts.

Check out the video below to hear what our Israeli campers have to say about their amazing Herzl Camp experience this past summer.

Click here to learn more about our Israeli Camper Program.

Shabbat Shalom.




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Was My Jewish Summer Camp Trying to Indoctrinate Me?

January 24, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, General Posts, Jewish Camping, Letters from Alumni.

By: Aiden Pink (Camper-2001-06, 2009 Ozo, Madrich2010-12). Aiden is currently the editorial assistant for The Tower Magazine and coordinator of the magazine’s Tower Tomorrow Fellowship. His favorite camp food was breakfast burritos.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on The Tower Magazine and is reposted with permission from the author. 

The latest bogeyman for Israel-bashers is the Zionist summer camp, which purportedly turns our children into fascists. For former campers as well as those who never went, a refresher course on summers at the lake.

Forget New York: The nexus of American Jewish cultural and political achievement is found deep in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin. Want to see it? Drive north from Siren and just keep going. Past the drive-through liquor store. Past the canoe still wedged into a tree. Past the signs in Webster advertising the “meat raffle” (it’s exactly what it sounds like). Hidden in the expanse of red pines is Herzl Camp, a Jewish summer camp where I spent six years as a camper and another four as a counselor.

OK, so maybe “nexus” is a little strong, but take a look at some of the camp’s other alumni: Bob Dylan. The Coen Brothers. Thomas L. Friedman. Debbie Friedman. Abe Foxman. The guy who wrote “Funkytown.” Those are some serious Elders of Zion. In fact, it’s not surprising that someone harboring dark obsessions about Jewish power and influence in American life has begun to connect the dots (how else can you explain “Funkytown’s” success?).

The Coen Brothers were recently interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross about their new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, which is about a Bob Dylan-esque folk singer. Gross mentioned that Dylan and the Coens had all attended Herzl Camp. One of the Coens (the interview was on radio, so I couldn’t differentiate between them—let’s call them Acerbic Coen and Sardonic Coen) thought that Dylan’s Herzl heritage was merely an urban myth, but Acerbic Coen pointed out that no, Dylan’s biography features photos of him playing his guitar at the camp.

“Is this the kind of summer camp where you sing songs with lyrics about how great the camp is, and then there’s team songs with how great the team is?” Gross asked.

“No,” said Sardonic Coen. “It was a Zionist summer camp, and you sang Zionist songs in Hebrew.” He said that last sentence in the same tone that he might have said, “The doctors botched my hernia operation” or “We got beaten at the Oscars by The English Patient.”

So, from this nugget of Zionist geography (it’s like Jewish geography, but more sinister), Philip Weiss, proprietor of the rabidly anti-Zionist site Mondoweiss, extrapolated that “American Jews need to take that indoctrination apart to understand who we are as religious supporters of settler colonialism.” Those are some pretty serious charges. Was I indoctrinated as a nine-year-old to support “settler colonialism”? I was on the camp’s education team for three years when I was on staff—am I complicit in brainwashing children and teens?

I am a Zionist because I decided, when I was eight years old, that I wanted to be Bob Dylan when I grew up.

My dad had to go on a lot of long business trips at the time, so whenever he was home I would make sure to follow him around everywhere, even on errands. So it was that in early November 2000, I trundled along with him to Best Buy, where he bought the two-disc The Essential Bob Dylan album. I didn’t really care that much about music at the time, but my dad popped the first disc into the CD player and told me to listen, really listen to the words. “Blowin’ in the Wind” I had heard before, but the second track, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” absolutely floored me: the deceptive simplicity of the lyrics, the sarcasm masking the inner pain and confusion. I demanded from the back seat that we listen to it again. I listened to those CDs almost nonstop for the next few months.

I felt a lot of affinity with Bob: We were both socially awkward Minnesota Jews with very limited singing skills. For my ninth birthday, I got a Dylan biography, which, in retrospect, I probably wasn’t ready for. But I was determined to be the next Dylan, and so I tried to follow in his footsteps in every way a nine-year-old could: Playing piano and guitar, listening to lots of old music, and imagining myself intellectually superior to all of my peers. And since Bob went to Herzl Camp, I was going to Herzl Camp. Even though none of my friends were going. Even though I had never successfully made it through a sleepover. I had had plenty of sleepoverattempts, but I would always get too homesick and call to be picked up. My parents made it very clear to me that they were not going to drive to Wisconsin to pick me up. That fact became more and more prescient as the departure date drew closer. How would I survive a whole week?

June 19, 2001: A convoy of coach buses snaked its way northwest from Minneapolis. I was too anxious to take a nap or try to make friends with the other boys on the bus. Mostly I just listened to the Dylan CD on my Discman and stared out the window. We drove through Siren, where the landscape looked like the aftermath of an alien invasion. A gas station was stripped of everything but its shell. Power line towers lay prone on the side of the road. I saw a dead cow in a field, and a canoe wedged into a tree. An F3 tornado had hit Siren the night before, killing three and causing $10 million of property damage. I ran to the counselor at the front of the bus. “Are we going to be OK?” I asked.

“Of course we are,” he said. “Herzl Camp is the safest place in Burnett County.”

The buses drove through the gate and parked us outside the auditorium, and we were shepherded inside, where we were blasted with a wave of sound so powerful that everything seemed to be vibrating. Eventually my ears adjusted to the point that I realized that everyone was singing Hebrew songs. I went to Jewish Day School, so I already knew some of the songs, but I also knew that it wasn’t cool to enjoy singing them. I wanted so desperately to be cool, to be Dylan, and since almost no one knew me at camp, I could reinvent my identity. I didn’t have to be the nerdy kid who liked to, ugh, participate in things. So I was amazed that the older campers (who were by definition cooler) were the loudest ones singing, even louder than the counselors who were paid to be there. So I started to sing along, softly at first, and then with more and more vigor. The songs faded away, and the cheers began, which I quickly learned and joined in on, even though the cheers were for sessions I wasn’t in. Eventually, with some fits and starts, the cheers died down. The director called my name, and sent me to tzrif 4—Cabin 4—where I had the most fun week of my life.

Jewish camps may have different priorities, but all are focused on nurturing a strong Jewish identity. Some are more interested in Israel—Young Judaea camps are pretty clear about embracing aliyah. Other camps, like Camp Ramah of the Conservative movement or the many camps of the Reform movement, highlight specific religious approaches to Judaism along with swimming and flag football. Herzl Camp is an independent camp, unaffiliated with any denomination of Judaism. And like Jewish summer camps of all varieties, it is designed to inculcate the feeling within young Midwestern Jews that the coolest thing in the world is being proud of who you are. And the best way to express that pride is to do it as loudly and creatively as possible.

At Herzl, there’s a cheer for every occasion, and an occasion for every cheer. There are cheers for each session and each cabin, and individualized cheers for most staff members and some campers. There are cheers for each team during color wars, cheers in English and cheers in Hebrew. There are cheers for specific foods and specific meals, and cheers in appreciation for the kitchen staff. There are cheers for arts and crafts and rock climbing and even fishing. There are ruach (spirit) battles, where cabins compete to see who can cheer for themselves the loudest. There are even cheers to get people to stop cheering. Every year there are new activities and new people at camp, so every year, campers and counselors come up with new cheers. What you’re cheering for may be kind of silly, and you may not have chosen it if you had the option, but for one reason or another, you ended up in this group. So why not own it? Why not be proud of it? And why not work to make it even better?

Another value of being at such a camp is that counselors and even campers are given wide latitude to propose and implement improvements. Want to start a band and perform in front of camp? Go for it, use this space to practice. Think the benches in the auditorium aren’t comfortable? Someone will teach you to build new ones. What you do at camp, what you do in life, is only limited by your imagination and ambition, because if you will it, it is no dream.

Click here to continue reading. 

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Helping to Select the Ozrim

January 17, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Alex Locke (former camper, staff member, Papa Ozo and board member)

For several days last month, I was busy in the Herzl Camp office conducting Ozo interviews. Wow… how times have changed. Years ago, there were rumors of people being chosen because of who their parents are, how much money they donate, and what side of the river they live on. What I can tell you now… that is about as far from the truth as possible.  This was my fifth year conducting interviews, and it is an extremely fair process.  Allow me to explain…

Each candidate submits an application along with an essay, a project, and contact information for references. All of those are done in a “blind” process. Names are removed, and a number is assigned to each candidate. Then there are three different panels consisting of Herzl’s full time staff as well as current and former people in the Herzl community who evaluate and score the documents. One group scores the application, one scores the project, and yet another scores the essay. Again, there are no names in these documents, giving everyone a fair chance. References are also submitted giving a fourth score to each candidate.

The fifth and final score is the interview. This is the only part of the process that is not blind, as each person comes in to meet with the interview panel, face to face. Those who are out of town have an equally fair interview via Skype. There are approximately six categories of questions, each which have four questions related to the topic. In the interview we ask different questions from the categories, although some obviously repeat. Each answer is then scored at the end of the interview.

Those five scores are then entered into a master spreadsheet and the top 14 boys and the top 14 girls are selected to be that year’s Ozrim.

As always, there will be people who think that the process is somehow unfair. I am here to tell you that it is EXTREMELY fair, and Herzl has done everything they possibly can to make this process fair and even. In fact, it is so fair, that there is no pre-screening. By that I mean that EVERYONE gets an interview. Each person who applies is given an equally fair chance to prove why they are the best candidate for the job.

Because of the amazing experience Herzl Camp gives its campers year after year, everyone wants to be an Ozo. Like with any job, not everyone will be selected, but I commend Herzl for creating this process, proving all those skeptics wrong.  This year had over 50 applicants!

Shabbat Shalom.


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That Was Then…This Is Now

January 10, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Campers.

By: Lauren & Claire (2013 B’yachad Campers)

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally written and delivered as a D’var Torah during B’yachad Shabbat in 2013.  During their D’var Torah, Claire and Lauren read excerpts from their initial emails messages to one another from back in 2008. 

Lauren: Saturday, May 10, 2008, 10:03 AM. Subject: Herzl Camp. Hi Claire. My name is Lauren. I go to Herzl Camp. I am from Omaha, Nebraska.

Claire: Sunday, May 11, 2008, 8:40 PM. Subject: Lauren is cool. Hi Lauren. How old are you? I am from Memphis, Tennessee. My friends are not going to Herzl. I don’t know anyone my age going. So, I really want to be your friend at Camp Herzl. See you at camp!

Lauren: Almost seven years ago on a fine Sunday afternoon, Anne Marvy Hope received an email from an anxious camper hoping to find her place in a new environment.

Claire: Yes, that was me, but that was then.

Lauren: This B’yachad Shabbat we are reflecting on what was then and what is now. In 2008, we were two strangers forming friendship the Herzl way.

Claire: Whether we were warding off aliens on the still-standing tennis courts in Chalutzim 2008,

Lauren: Conquering our fears in the demolished Old Chadar in ’09,

Claire: Obsessing over attractive male staff members in 2010,

Lauren: She still does that today…

Claire: Or continuing the tradition of putting our life into the hands of others and carrying on the Kadimah wall legacy,

Lauren: Without realizing it, we all put our separate interests aside, allowing ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and truly be the people we are today.

Claire: Sunday, May 17, 2008, 4:29 PM. Subject: I’m getting nervous. Hello Lauren, I was wondering what your favorite part of camp is.

Lauren: Monday, May 18, 2008: 9:37 AM. Subject: No subject. Claire, you asked me what my favorite part of camp is. Well, it’s everything.

Claire: This goes to show that our camp is just as amazing with one Amanut building as opposed to two, and the cabins are just as beautiful whether they hold 6 or 16 campers.

Lauren: I don’t know if we should go that far, but camp isn’t about running to the nearest air-conditioned facility. It’s about running to your best friend before separation anxiety takes over.

Claire: Wednesday, May 21, 2008, 6:14 AM. Subject: Can’t wait. What do you look like? Do you know how to send pictures over the Internet? Maybe I can send one to you so you can know how I look and you can send me one so I can know what you look like. Maybe we can call each other over the phone. Can’t wait to see you!

Lauren: As anxious 9 year olds, our biggest fear was who we would sit with on the bus ride to camp. Only realizing now that what is most important is not who you sit with, but what you talk about.

Claire: Camp is a place where two totally different people can embrace their differences while learning to love who they are.

Lauren: At the beginning of camp, friendships may seem superficial and awkward only now did we realize that they are the best things to ever happen to us.

Claire: Wherever I am in the world, my 66 brothers and sisters are always in my heart, united as one, we’re the best you’ll ever see.

Lauren: With that in mind I encourage everybody here to remember the beginning and enjoy the end.

Claire: Friday, May 23, 2008, 5:16 PM. Subject: Email me please. Hi Lauren. I can’t wait to see you. Herzl will be great I think. Well, bye!

Lauren: Camp is an ever-changing environment,

Together: but we’re just living in the moment. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!

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Here’s to Summer 2014!

January 3, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, General Posts, Letters from Staff, Top 10 Lists.

It’s 2014 and camp is just around the corner! Ok, we realize that it doesn’t actually feel like summer is just around the corner for so many of our readers but alas it is. In the spirit of the new year, we’d like to share some of the things we are looking forward to this summer.

20.   Welcoming the 2014 staff and ozrim to Machaneh Paradise

19.   Watching alumni put their children and grandchildren on the bus for first time as they reminisce about their own first bus ride to camp

18.   Playing gaga with the campers

17.   Mastering the art of starting a lanyard bracelet

16.   Teaching the Taste Campers about the Herzl Camp traditions

15.   Catching a camper cleaning up camp (when they don’t actually know that you are watching them)

14.   Watching the bald eagles soaring over the Mercaz during Shabbat

13.   Hearing laughter and ruach spill from every square foot of camp

12.   Dancing like a flash mob in the chadar

11.   Smelling delicious cinnamon rolls on Shabbat morning

10.   Observing the breathtaking blanket of stars in the sky every night before lights out

9.   Meeting our new Israeli campers and introducing them to Herzl Camp

8.   Sampling organic vegetables from the Gan Kehilati (Community Garden)

7.   Celebrating little moments every single day

6.   Walking hand-in-hand with new friends in the Shabbat Caravan

5.   Seeing the spark of curiosity from campers during Shabbat Sichot

4.   Observing campers learning a new skill, discovering a new talent or becoming a leader

3.   Raising and lowering the American, Israeli and Herzl Camp flags together as one camp kehilah (community)

2.   High five-ing campers as they get off the bus on the first day of each session

1.   Experiencing the magic of Herzl Camp during a summer filled with ruach, good friends, beautiful Shabbat experiences and a life-time of memories

See you this summer!

Shabbat Shalom.

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Thank You…from the Herzl Camp Family

December 27, 2013 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Giving Back to Camp, Letters from Staff.

Giving to Herzl Camp is …

Life Changing




Community Building 

and Tax Deductible

On top of all that, you’ll have the gratitude of the Herzl Family – campers, staff, alumni, parents and grandparents. Click here to donate now.

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A Love Letter to the Nozrim

December 20, 2013 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Kimmy Lear

The annual ozo announcement never fails to bring me an amount of anxiety.  Years after my own experience, I can still remember the sting of pain I felt when I did not find myself on the 2004 ozo list.  I remember thinking that I would never go back to Herzl, that all my sacred camp relationships would quickly disappear and I would absolutely have the worst summer of my life (I was a very dramatic 16 year old).  I am writing to tell the wonderful Nozos of 2014 that I have felt how you feel right now and I know that it is painful and disappointing.  I also happen to know that  years later, you will feel different.

It is now a common joke in my family that when anything goes wrong, I always respond with “I survived ozo rejection so this should be a piece of cake.”  The ability to handle disappointment, pick yourself up, and figure out another way to go on is an important lesson.  I consider myself lucky that at 16, I was forced to face rejection and find a viable plan b.  I had planned on being an ozo since I was ten years old.  I would run around in my older sister’s “team ozo” shirt and fantasize about the inside jokes on the back of my shirt and the song that my friends and I would write together.  My 2004 summer was not what I had always planned, but there was something exhilarating about having an entire summer ahead of me that I could independently plan.

I spent the summer working at Camp Olami where I met an entirely different group of friends and had a completely different camping experience.  To my surprise, I loved working at Olami (what can I say, I just love camp). I also learned that, although I love camp, I especially love Herzl and I needed to go back because, even after the disappointment, Herzl was still my place.

After two years away from camp, I was nervous about rejoining my friends who were ozrim together.  My first day of staff week, I immediately remembered one reason why Herzl is so magical; your camp friendships can survive anything.  One summer away did not erase the years we had spent writing flag songs, crying on Shabbat, dancing to breakfast music, and staying up all night just to see the sun rise over the lake.  Needless to say, I loved being on staff so I went back again, and again, and again, (and then one more time).

My last summer on staff as the Noar/Kadimah program director was actually “the best summer ever.” My best camp friends and I decided to take one more summer together at the place we love the most.  I shared a bunk bed with the same girl I shared a bunk bed with in Ha’atid.  She was an ozo, I was not. I have 95% forgiven her.

To the 2014 Ozrim:  Congratulations! You will have a wonderful summer, but first, call your dear friends who are upset and tell them how much you love them and how excited you are to be on staff with them in 2015.

To the 2014 Nozrim:  Congratulations!  I know it doesn’t seem like it today, but you have an amazing opportunity to take this summer and do something different and something great.  You, too, will have a wonderful summer. And please trust me when I say, Herzl is still your place.

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Unplug and Play with Your Family

December 6, 2013 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Letters from Staff, Top 10 Lists.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager

After the hustle and bustle of a busy school year, why not unplug, get outside, breathe fresh air and play as a family? Rather than including stats on the benefits of being in nature or having down time as a family, I’ll just show you what it’s like…and why it’s worth it.

Here are a few of our favorite reasons to unplug, play with your family and join us at Herzl for Family Camp:

Family Time






Future Bunkmates

New Activities

Waterfront Fun

Unplug, play and celebrate Shabbat together with your family at Family Camp and make memories that last a lifetime! Click here to register for Family Camp 2014 and join us for a memorable weekend!


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8 Reasons to Keep The Light Burning

November 22, 2013 by , under General Posts, Giving Back to Camp, Letters from Staff.

By Holly Guncheon, Development Director

Chanukah was a time when the Maccabees, those unwaveringly dedicated to the cause, saw an unmet need and took action into their own hands.  And then, with all the energy and means they amassed – even though their arms were sparse and their oil lacking – they won the battle and the light shined forth.  G-d saw their cause was just, and partnered miraculously with them on their mission.

In honor of Chanukah, consider 8 reasons to take action into your own hands and keep the light burning at your favorite Jewish camp this year:

Give to…

1. Pay it forward – If Jewish camp shaped your life, take action to give a child that same life-altering experience.

2.  Pay it back – Did you get to camp on scholarship, make sure another child has that same help.

3.  Make a difference – Do you worry about declining interest, dwindling engagement, and decreasing numbers? Jewish camps are battling those trends.

4.  Be part of something important – Jewish campers are passionate about Israel, our community and grow up to lead our institutions. Giving to your favorite Jewish Camp builds the future.

5.  Feel good – Making our community better and stronger is something to feel great about, giving to Jewish Camps does just that.

6.  Help someone less fortunate – Camp is expensive and shouldn’t be just for those who can afford it.  Provide a day, a week, a session of camp. There aren’t a lot of ways to buy joy, but that’s a surefire one.

7.  Feel connected – Join the thousands of donors and volunteers who make camp happen each year, it will feel great to be part of the solution!

8.  Remember – If your happiest memories were made in Webster, Wisconsin, give a dollar for every smile, laugh or tear and see what that adds up to.

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach, and may your light burn brightly this year.

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The Chanukah – Thanksgiving Showdown

November 15, 2013 by , under General Posts, Holidays, Letters from Staff.

Thanksgivukah Storytime with "Theo" Bears & Friends

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager and Menurkey Expert

Menurkey, Thanksgivukah, Thanks-a-lot-a-kah…we’ve heard them all. Everyone is getting involved in the rare convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving this year. Whether you celebrate both of the holidays or not, it’s hard to avoid all the fuss. Everywhere on the web, you can find unique and unusual ways of celebrating the holidays. From cranberry applesauce and pecan pie rugelach to websites hawking menurkeys (yes, there actually is a site called and ideas for every imaginable craft on Pinterest, Thanksgivukah is flooding the market….at least in the U.S. Folks who have been deep frying their turkeys in oil for years, have the upper hand this holiday – though they probably use eight days worth of oil for just one day of turkey.

For many people, this is is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as these two holidays won’t coincide again until 2070. Maybe, you should go ahead and purchase that beautiful menurkey for your family so you can pass it down from generation to generation. Ah, Menurkey L’dor V’dor…a treasured and magical family heirloom.  If you don’t take it out of the package and use it this year, you could probably get a lot of money for it in 2070. Antiques Roadshow 2070 anyone? You could use the money to buy the flying DeLorean time machine your great-grandson will inevitably want for Chanukah. Think about it…it might be a wise investment.

So, with all the pressure to have the most Martha Stewart-y, Food Network-Worthy holiday celebration, what is someone who celebrates Chanukah to do this year? Whether you have pumpkin menorahs, turkey-filled doughnuts or a cornucopia filled with dreidels, Chanukah is still Chanukah…the essence of the holiday hasn’t changed (kind of like camp, right? While we have beautiful new buildings, the essence of Herzl Camp hasn’t changed).  So, go ahead and buy a menurkey, make some pumpkin spice donuts or play dreidel for cranberries…It won’t change Chanukah.

Now that you’ve figured out your celebrity chef-worthy dinner menu and your Pinterest-approved decor, what’s next? Do you paint your nails with blue and white turkeys? Do you dress your children up like maccabees and pilgrims? How about we just focus on the gifts? Not everyone gives gifts on Chanukah. Some people give a little gelt. Other people dedicate certain nights of Chanukah to a specific charity and donate money or volunteer. And, yet others may simply share meals with family or friends to celebrate. Whatever you do, we hope you find it meaningful and fun.

If you do choose to give a little something to friends or family members for Chanukah, why not give a gift that reminds them of something that is both meaningful and fun? We have the perfect solution…the gift of Herzl Camp gear! We’re excited to ANNOUNCE (yep, I said it but you can’t throw me in the lake):

 The new Herzl Camp online store is now open!

From adorable Theodor teddy bears and Ultimate Frisbee discs to retro treeline shirts and car magnets, we’ve got something for everyone. We even have our own version of “longs and longs”! Remember, back in the day, when your madrichim would tell you to race back to your tzrif and quickly change into longs and longs for evening program? You would run back and dig through your trunk to find that your entire collection of long sleeved shirts was limited to day-glo colors that were not going to allow you to truly Escape to Israel without getting caught. You no longer have to worry because we sell longs and longs in our store. You can be stealth and look awesome.

Click here to check out the store and start shopping. Note: Items in your order will be delivered in one shipment to your home address. If you wish to provide an alternate address for your entire order (IE, if you are sending a Chanukah gift), email us and be sure to provide your order number along with the alternate address. Items are mailed from our store two days a week.

What? These shirts never came in green! They do now!

Happy Chanukah! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgivukah! Happy Thanks-a-lot-a-kah!
Shabbat Shalom!

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Once a Teva Trekker…Always a Teva Trekker

November 8, 2013 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Letters from Campers, Outdoor/Environmental Education, What I Learned from Camp.

Teva Trek 2013

By: Lev Gringauz (2012 and 2013 Teva Trek Camper)

Editor’s Note: Teva Trek is a 4-week program for campers entering 10th and 11th grade that combines Herzl Camp tradition and outdoor adventure. 

These days I find myself eating a lot of raw onions. I know, its strange, but ticks don’t like onions. Well, ticks don’t like to suck the blood from campers who eat lots of onions. I know that last sentence sounds like gibberish in the echoes of the Minnesotan fall weather, but what can I say? Once a Teva Trekker, always a Teva Trekker.

I don’t really know where to start in the list of “how Teva Trek changed me”. I used to be a shy kid with stage fright (even though I was in theatre), afraid of heights, not confident in my ability to play guitar or sing, and deathly scared of ticks (though I would never admit it). Now, I have jumped off of a thirty foot pole (twice!), played in song session, played in the shabbat caravan, was the rosh shirah for Teva over the 2012 and 2013 trips, and now I miss the quiet moment of the day when I would pull out at least one tick.

Life used to be kind of boring before Teva, not in the bad way, just not interesting. Too much school and drama and stuff. And now its all completely different. Every morning I wake up and tell myself “today is the best day ever”, which is something my PD’s and councelors would tell me every day of the Montana trip. And even though some days are rough, I try to stay in a good mood with memories of Herzl as a trekker. I find myself thinking that if I can hike 11 miles on rocky ground around lake Superior (2012 apostle islands trip) I can get through another AP Statistics lecture. That sure you might be soaking wet, smelly, tired, wanting a warm bed in a house, tired of bugs and travel, but its only as bad as you make it. Life goes on, and you can’t be moping on the fact that a shower would be great while missing sunset on Superior or hiking through a slot canyon. Then nothing is fun.

Shabbat Montana

There is something strange about Teva that I will never understand: my love and appreciation of Herzl is without bounds. This is true for most, if not all Teva Trekkers. Something about the month with a small group of people doing unique and strange things and truly bonding makes everyone care more about camp. It is a truly a personal experience, to be part of a group but just as valuable as an individual. It makes me understand group dynamics better, and be a better leader. It makes me see more in people, respect the universe and life and love more. To me, Teva is ultimate living, and living is one of those good addictive things.

Shabbat Shalom.

Editor’s Note: Teva Trek is heading back to Montana in 2014! Click here to learn more about the program. To register for Teva Trek 2014, click here

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Shtick Happens…

November 1, 2013 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Letters from Staff.

Emily (front, far left) getting "schticky" with her cabin in 2013

By: Emily Siegler (2013 Staff)

As a camp counselor I often feel that I live a double life. There’s the Herzl world where I’m the goofiest, quirkiest, most fun version of myself and then there’s the real world where I’m still myself but definitely not as extreme. As I departed camp this past summer for my home in Memphis, Tennessee, several questions filled my head: What am I going to do without my morning Jonas Brothers/Hannah Montana jam session during Nikayon? How will I make it through each Shabbat without going from cabin to cabin asking to borrow white outfits so that I can explore my options (partially due to the fact that I UNDER pack, not over pack, each summer)? How will I survive without some of the greatest people by my side at all times? But most importantly, how can I incorporate “shtick” into my life in the real world?

One of the reasons I find Herzl to be so enchanting is because of the way shtick is implemented into almost every aspect of the Herzl day. Never is a program introduced or a meal finished without the incorporation of some sort of creative gimmick. Shtick is my absolute favorite part of Herzl Camp because it allows people like myself to express creativity in subtler ways and is a factor that truly distinguishes Herzl from other places.

This past summer, I really got to experiment with shtick and the role it plays at camp and felt that there must be some way to “be shticky” in everyday life, therefore I have taken the past few months to brainstorm possible ways to spread a little shtick into my college life. For example, why not turn a class presentation into an episode of “Oprah” instead of a bland power point presentation (something I actually did in my social work class that my teacher loved!)? Why not treat college rec-center zumba like it’s camp zumba, or even write an original rap naming all of the parts of the cell for a biology test?

So maybe camp shtick can’t be replicated in the real world, but perhaps that’s why it is part of the Herzl magic. However, we can preserve shtick by bringing our own creative abilities into every day situations- something I wouldn’t have been able to do without Herzl.

Although I am still working on ways to express my creative side in the real world, I know one thing is for certain. When a B’yachad girls cabin runs around frantically at morning flag, as if they are characters from “Back to the Future”, leads an all camp tai-chi session, or imitates an Amish family dinner so spot on that they are indeed wearing coffee filters as bonnets, THAT’S when shtick happens.

Peace, love, and Tzrif 15. Shabbat Shalom, y’all!

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Come Gather ‘Round the Fire

October 25, 2013 by , under General Posts, Letters from Staff.

By: Drea Lear, Interim Co-Camp Director

Editor’s Note: The Yitro Leadership Program focuses on the next generation of camp leadership: assistant and associate directors. Generously funded by the AVI CHAI Foundation, Yitro trains young leaders to build vibrant, intentional camp communities that are infused with Jewish values, ethics, culture, and spirit. The program supports our ongoing effort to bring top-level executive management practices to Jewish camp, and develop camp experiences that shape and secure children’s Jewish identity for the future.

Last week, I graduated from my 19 month journey as a Foundation for Jewish Camp Yitro Fellow. I am still reflecting on this amazing experience and continuing to realize the many ways in which the program impacted me. But I can tell you two things I know for sure: Jewish camp is amazing. And the more camp changes, the more it stays the same.

I started as a camper at Herzl Camp in the 1990’s and never left (with the exception of one summer in Israel and one summer in Washington, DC.). I have seen my fair share of changes throughout the years – new chugim (anyone remember Magic with David Harris?), new programs (Kesher on their bikes!), new traditions (singing T’filat Haderech to end song session), new buildings, new staff, new leadership.

One thing has endured through it all – the campfire.  A place in time and space to gather with friends, both old and new, share stories, triumphs, and fears, sing songs, laugh, and cry.

In my 19 months as a Yitro fellow, we gathered five times. There wasn’t always an actual campfire (just once, and it was awesome!), but there were songs sung, relationships built, triumphs celebrated, fears conquered, support given, and stories shared.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Avi Chai Foundation have built a strong national campfire where Jewish camping professionals and staff can gather together. As Herzl Camp, and the entire Jewish camping industry, experiences growth, we can continue to gather around the campfire and share the ruach (spirit) that glows from its flames.

The campfire will always endure, as will the ruach of camp. It will inevitably grow and change, but those who continue to care for it, placing log after log so intentionally to keep it lit, will sustain it.

Thank you Foundation for Jewish Camp, Avi Chai, and Herzl Camp for providing me, and so many others, a campfire.

Shabbat Shalom!



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