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What makes Herzl Camp Magic…the people or the place?

July 25, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Staff.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations Manager

When I talk to alumni, campers and staff about the power of camp or the magic of Herzl, they often talk about connecting to something deeper…something magical. They tell me about…

  • the Ozo who encouraged them to step out of their comfort zone and try something new
  • how celebrating Shabbat together as one camp kehilah (community) made them feel as if they were a a part of something truly special
  • their first friendship bracelet and how they wore it every single day for an entire year until it their parents forced them to take it off for their Bat Mitzvah weekend
  • how they sing songs from Friday night song session to lull their babies to sleep at night
  • how they were scared to climb the wall with Kadimah but somehow managed to muster the courage to get in line and afterwards felt a strength they never knew they had
  • how their counselor patiently taught them to make a top bunk bed
  • how they made a friend from a place they thought was so far away but really was just Omaha, Nebraska…a simple phone call away

Their answers are most often about meaningful moments, personal accomplishments and special people rather than a certain building or structure around camp. However, if you specifically ask about a meaningful place in camp, the stories just start flowing. Yes, we always say that though our buildings change, the magic remains the same. And, that is very true. However, those buildings – both old and new – do play a significant role in contributing to the wonderful camp memories for many, many people.

At last week’s staff meeting, Amy Goldfine talked about the significance and importance of truly seeing buildings around camp and she asked the staff to answer this question: Is there a place or building at camp that is meaningful to you or makes you feel connected to Herzl Camp as a whole? What is it and why is it meaningful to you? Their answers were just as powerful as the stories they tell about meaningful moments, personal accomplishments and special people at camp…here are just a few:

“The Bayit Shelanu…the simplicity of nature inspires me.”

“The Mercaz is one of the most meaningful places to me because it is where I can peacefully reflect on my day or summer and look over the lake.”

“The Ulam because it is the first building I entered at Herzl and nothing anyone told me prepared me for he ruach and excitement I found there.”

“The Old Ozo Mo because it is a defining symbol of camp. It is one of the last older generation buildings of camp and is also a defining feature in Ozo Park.”

“The Old Amanut Building because it’s where I spent so many days.”

“Walking the Paths..even though camp is changing, only the path stays the same.”

“For me, the Chadar is a symbol of camp unity. It is the place where everyone at camp comes together at least three times a day. At the chadar, we eat, pray and sing together.”

The Center of the Lake. One summer we kayaked to the middle of the lake to watch the sunrise and it was truly beautiful. That’s when I realized that you don’t need crazy programming to have an amazing time at camp. It’s the people around you and being in that exact moment.”

“The Kadimah Wall. I love watching all of camp come together and cheer on such an epic event that has left such an excellent mark on camp. The Kadimah Wall makes me proud to be a part of that legacy and I love watching it continue each year and continue to bring camp together.”

We treasure the buildings throughout camp just as much as the people because the walls of those buildings are infused with the magic of Herzl Camp. The next time you visit camp, you just might look at a building in a new light and see the magic shine from within.

Shabbat Shalom.


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Dear Herzl Camp Alumni

July 18, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

Johanna (far left) and the 2004 Ozrim at their reunion this summer

By: Johanna (Stein) Hyman (Former camper, Ozo, staff member and Program Director)

At camp, time stands still: you forget what day of the week it is, what your friends and family are doing. You’re enveloped by the experience, unsure when you arrived or how many days you have left. Living in Herzl Time, you’re frozen in a permanent state of ruach and schtick. And while in the post-camp years, those summers seemed forever frozen in time, your lives changed and continued on. But, the physical structures of Herzl remained.

Now, after nearly a full renovation and transformation of camp’s physical appearance, I admit I was nervous returning as an alum. My worst fear? That camp’s magical “frozen-in-time” feeling would be gone; today’s campers would be somehow different because of all the changes; that Herzl’s spirit was, in essence, destroyed when they knocked down 90% of the camp I knew.

I am writing this letter to tell you that after spending a weekend at Herzl, there was nothing (and is nothing) to be nervous about. Yes, the cabins are new (they even have wooden bunks, built in cubbies and ceiling fans), and the old chadar is gone (thank goodness because it was a safety hazard). And sure, the docks at the waterfront have been replaced, and the mercaz benches have backs on them. I do not sit here writing this letter in an attempt to convince you everything remains the same. It’s not: the camp we knew looks different…very different. But camp feels the same: the smell of bug spray and sunscreen permeates the air; wet beach gear hangs from the clothing lines while flip-flops and toiletry carriers sit on the porches of the cabins; counselors march to the haks carrying iPod speakers with their campers wrapped tightly in towels (can anyone say “shower party?”). And most importantly, the insane ruach, silly shtick and that overall unexplainable Herzl warm-fuzzy feeling still lingers in the Webster air.  With one Shabbat caravan and Sunday morning breakfast singing “Od Lo Achalnu”, I was comforted. I now know, after seeing it with my own eyes, that you can change the way Herzl looks, but no new structure or physical update will ever change the way Herzl feels.

I hope this letter helps ease some of your anxieties over what the physical changes have done to camp. Worry not that the old chadar is gone – I’m sure the story of Rosemary will always live on – or that the window frame you scribbled your name on in tzrif 9 has been destroyed. What truly matters is that below the pretty sparkling new fixtures, Herzl Camp remains the camp you knew and loved, and the camp your children will one day love, as well. Trust that Herzl camp’s spirit is safely frozen in time.

Shabbat Shalom.


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Discovering Our Inner Artist

July 11, 2014 by , under General Posts.

By: Gary Fine

Editor’s Note: Gary, along with his wife Wendy, spent several days as an artist-in-residence for our B’yachad program (10th graders) last week. They helped our campers design and create a beautiful large mural that will be installed in our Beit Ruach (our gym/sports facility). We are so grateful for their time, energy and inspiration!  To see more of Gary’s beautiful works of art, click here

I was recently invited to Herzl camp to create a mural with the B’yachad campers, and had hoped that they would ultimately create something special.  As a former staff member, 40 years ago,  it was a rare treat for me to come back to work with the campers and staff this past week in a new capacity. It was a wonderful experience for me and for Wendy.

Herzl camp is that magical place where children play and become adults, and adults can play and at times act like children. The buildings have changed, but the atmosphere has not.

To begin the project we divided sixteen 3 by 3 feet nearly blank white canvasses among the campers, accompanied with only a brief outline from the Torah creation story.  After a little over 3 days, like white light passing through a crystal, the B’yachad campers through the prism of their own eyes, merged their artwork together and filled a unified universe into a 12 by 12 canvas. Combining their visions, they completed the creation story and created a beautiful mural.

Throughout, Wendy and I were in awe of the B’yachad campers. We watched, occasionally guiding but mostly observing the many different inspiring art pieces that they were creating, and which would become the great mural that was unfolding in their talented hands. It was a learning experience for us, and we hope for B’yachad as well.

Thank you to the Herzl staff who were involved in creating and working on this project and for inviting us to be a working part as well.

Shabbat Shalom.



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From Canoeing to Coding: How the Summer Camp Experience Has Changed (or hasn’t)

July 4, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Kim Lear, Millennial

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on June 24 on the Bridgeworks blog and is reprinted with permission from the author. 

Summer is a nostalgic season for me. For my entire childhood, the ice melting and flowers blooming only meant one thing: Camp was right around the corner.

For anyone out there who loves summer camp as much as I do, you know the feeling. You wait all year to return to your remote home in the woods. This sanctuary where everything terrible about being a teenager seems to disappear. As summer comes around yet again, I reflect on these wonderful years of color wars, tie-dye shirts and canoe trips. I begin to wonder if camp is one of those places frozen in time. No matter how the world changes around us, perhaps camp is a place of generational consistency.

So what is camp like today for young Gen Edgers?

One of the biggest differences is simply the amount of choices these Gen Edgers have. For many of us, our camping choices were somewhat limited. I didn’t ride horses so horse camp seemed like a stretch. I’m not an athlete so basketball camp was off the table. I settled on a more universal camping experience: arts and crafts, swimming, tennis, staying up all night talking about what counselors we thought were cute (my personal favorite activity).

For these Gen Edgers and their parents, choosing a camp is a different experience. The camping industry has boomed into a 2 billion dollar industry with some parents paying as much as $5,000 a week! Any specialty you can think of…there’s a camp for that.

Secret Agent camp? Check.
Fashion Designer camp? Check.
Adrenaline Junkie camp? Check.
Investment Banking camp? Check.
Whale camp? But of course, check.

In the competitive era that Gen Edgers are growing up in, for some kids today, taking the summer “off” isn’t an option. They are learning languages, writing code, uncovering the mysteries of the sea (at whale camp, I presume), and putting on Oscar-worthy performances at competitive art camps.

The house I made out of paper clips and Popsicle sticks is looking a little pathetic now…

So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe camp today is a totally different experience than it was in the past. Perhaps camp is now based on “actionable takeaways” and “skill-based learning.” But then…I began to read blogs written by kids about their camp experiences. It turns out, the messaging is almost the exact same today as what you may have expected to hear from kids in the Catskills in 1960. Whether it was coding camp or music camp, the blogs are filled with quotes like this:

“Camp has helped shape who I am today. I didn’t just learn about technology, I learned about teamwork and self-confidence.”

“Camp is really the only place I can be myself.”

“You really have to learn how to resolve conflict at camp. There’s nowhere to escape to!”

“I had my first kiss last summer at camp.”

“There is something special about my relationships with my camp friends. I can’t explain it, they just get me.”

Every generation puts their own stamp on how we define childhood and youth culture. At BridgeWorks, we spend as much time tracking consistencies as we do tracking changes. We know the world is changing, yet we also know that kids still love to float down the river in a canoe with their friends covered in mosquito bites. What kids DO at camp may be different but what kids LOVE about camp seems to remain exactly the same.

My old summer camp officially kicked into action last week. I look longingly at the camp Facebook page as pictures are posted of sun-burned, scratched-kneed children and I’m happy to know that everything I loved about camp is what they will love about camp too.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

June 27, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

By: Alex Locke (Former Camper, Staff and Board Member)

As the old saying goes… a picture is worth a thousand words.  They can convey happiness, sadness, excitement, and virtually any other emotion one can think about.  Sometimes you can even try to guess someone’s emotion in a picture.  You may be right, and you may be wrong.  With today’s technology… pictures are instant.  We snap them and get to see how they turned out.  But think back to when you were a camper…

Remember when you had a camera and took pictures all summer long, but couldn’t see those pictures until you got back home and had them developed.  You got to re-live your entire summer all over again, but this time, you got to share those pictures with your parents and family.  They now got to understand what you had just experienced.  And the best part is… you got to do it together.  You got to see your family experience camp with you all over again.  You got to show them your friends, your cabin, your Ozo, your counselor, Bikkurim, and all of those caravan pictures!  Part of what was so fun is you got to tell your parents how you were feeling in those pictures… they didn’t have to guess.

Sadly, that experience has been taken away from campers.  In today’s world, camps put pictures online on a daily basis.  This causes parents all kinds of different emotions.  Some are happy and thrilled while others are upset.  Some parents even call camp when they don’t see their child because they assume it means they are crying in their cabin and not having fun.  Others might call in and say, “I saw a picture of my child, but he wasn’t smiling.  Why is he so unhappy??”

The truth is… your child is having fun, perhaps so much fun that the photographer can’t even keep up with them.  And maybe they’re not smiling in the picture because they don’t like having their picture taken, or they are just being silly and making a goofy face when the photographer says “say cheese.”  The point is… don’t worry about the pictures.  Parents need to trust in the camp staff that if there is anything wrong with your child, they will be in touch with you.  They would never leave it up to pictures for you to assume there is something wrong.  Having been a director of two different camps I can tell you… these staff are trained well to work with your child and to give them the time of their lives.  Don’t worry about the pictures… know that if something is wrong you will hear about it.

And maybe do yourself a favor; don’t even look at the pictures until your child comes home.  Then look together at them just like you did with your parents and you will get to experience camp through your child’s eyes.

Shabbat shalom!

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Shabbat Shalom, Love Herzl Camp

June 20, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Staff.

By: Meryl Engle (2014 Staff)

Editor’s Note: This blog will be delivered by Meryl as a D’var Torah on Saturday, June 21, the first Shabbat with Campers.

My favorite part about growing up at Herzl Camp was that we not only accept, but embrace being weird.

At Herzl, I wasn’t judged for my obsession with playing with worms. At Herzl, I wasn’t judged for keeping pet rocks in my cubbies.At Herzl, I wasn’t judged for putting peanut butter on my hamburgers. This the place I discovered that it was cool to be unique.

Camp creates this safe bubble for being yourself. That safe bubble allowed me to grow and challenge who I thought I needed to be. Herzl cultivated my inner weirdo, allowing me to become myself without restrictions. I challenge each and every one of you to stop worrying about what people think. Dance crazy at breakfast. Sing at the top of your lungs at ruach. Wear whatever you want. Do what makes you happy. Be whoever it is you need to be; because this is a magical place where you can find yourself…and a pet rock.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Herzl…Behind the Scenes

June 6, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, General Posts, Letters from Staff.

Molly with her Herzl internship presentation at school

By: Molly Apple

As a senior at Blake, we have an opportunity to do any kind of senior program for 2 weeks at the end of the year such as an internship or self-directed project.  I chose to intern at the Herzl Camp office because Herzl is a huge part of my life. It is where I grew up and found myself, so it only made sense I would wrap up my high school career by giving back and learning about what makes Herzl an effective independent non-profit camp. I’ve gone to camp for 9 years, this summer will be my 10th, but I’ve always been on the camp side of camp, never the behind the scenes where the whole “magic” is created. Through this internship, I got to see “backstage.” By observing how camp can work efficiently, I feel I can be a better counselor and Herzl Camp community member.

The main topics I learned about were alumni connections, fundraising, counselor coordination and camper inclusion. To support Herzl’s “Alumni Wednesday” Facebook posts I sorted through old pictures of camp from the old Marpeach, and other photo albums and created collages for different themed Wednesdays. Some include cabin pictures, Bikkurim, the waterfront, and more. Editor’s Note: Thanks to Molly for creating some great collages for Alumni Wednesday. Make sure you “like” our Facebook page so you can see her Alumni Wednesday collages this summer!

I also got to meet with the fundraising team and learn about what it takes for the many facets of camp to work. After such a huge renovation project at camp, I got to see what is next and see the amazing efforts going towards scholarship fundraising in order for more and more kids to be able to spend their summers at Herzl. I learned about the personal relationships that are formed when fundraising, and the long lasting bonds that are what makes the magic and tradition of Herzl so powerful.

To help counselor coordination, I worked on a survey for all the counselors to complete and helped make sure that all the staff completed it. Near the end of my internship, I learned about camper inclusion from Associate Director, Drea Lear. This personal experience gave me more confidence that all campers will have fun at camp because of the opportunity we have as staff to make them feel included and wanted.

After all the insider information I gathered these past few weeks at the Herzl Office, I can’t wait to be a first year staff up at camp this summer!

Shabbat Shalom.

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What Camp on Your Resume Really Says About You

May 30, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, General Posts, Letters from Alumni.

The author (right) showing off his camp ruach with Ross Tulman


By: Mike Neiman

Ever since moving to the Human Resources department at Target, I receive at least one LinkedIn request per month to meet and discuss Target careers.  Working in HR has shown me quite a bit about the inner workings to a Fortune 100 company’s hiring strategy.  Let me be clear though, before you all send me your resumes - I am NOT a recruiter.  I can NOT get you a job.  However, I can tell you what I look for when college graduate resumes come my way…

Camp experience, and camp leadership.  Every time.

I scroll right down to the bottom of your resume and look at “other work experience” to see if you worked at camp, because I firmly believe that it will define your candidacy much more than anything else.  Having worked at camp for 7 years, ranging from counselor to specialist to program director, I believe there are certain skills demanded (and learned) from camp jobs that are extremely relevant in the business world.  For example, here is what I see:

1.       Counselor for 3+ years:  First of all, you are creative, you have to be.  Because to make the same role exciting year after year, you need to be willing to change it up, think outside the box, and challenge the norms around you.  If you weren’t doing that, you probably would not have been back for a 3rd year.  But you also love the “details” of work.  You don’t want to be a manager, and you are ok being closer to the delivery of tasks than the oversight of them.  And you are likeable, you have great character and know how to relate well with others, because you have to reacquaint yourself with younger peers each summer.  You’d be a great Marketing Analyst, Communications Specialist, or HR Generalist.

2.       Rosh Sport or other Specialist:  Talk about successful multi-tasker!  You are able to oversee dozens of different business units at once.  You also know how to lead large ambiguous teams of people, often with a “dotted line” reporting structure (you don’t manage them, but you own the success of them).  Additionally, you are an event planner, capable of pulling off a day-long event across countless impacted business areas (Bikkurim).  You’d make a great Project Manager, Business Consultant, or Investment Banker.

3.       B’yachad Director or other PD:  You are patient, you are determined, and you are proven.  It takes a lot to be trusted as a Program Director, and you should be (and are) proud of the career that got you there.  You are adaptable and moldable, because each year you have exceeded expectations of that role and impressed your leadership to be given more responsibility.  You manage people well, but you also manage a business well, and know how to make quick and difficult decisions daily.  You know how to develop talent, discuss corrective action, problem solve issues, get yelled at and brush it off (don’t downplay the importance of this), and be the sole responsible party for the success of an entire business strategy.  You would make a great Corporate Manager, Entrepreneur, or CEO.

When you come to me, don’t tell me about the internship cataloging expense reports for dad’s law firm, or your 2 years working as a call-center supervisor.  There are great stories there I’m sure, but I’m more interested in the ones that tell who you REALLY are.  You worked at camp … which already makes you a step above the competition that didn’t.  Now tell me what you learned in the roles that had YOU directly responsible for the lives of children, thousands of budget dollars, and the development of the people around you.  I’d hire that story in a heartbeat.

Oh, and if you only worked at camp for a year and it wasn’t for you … maybe leave that off.  Everyone has their reasons, but you don’t want me to get the wrong impression.

Shabbat Shalom.

Editor’s Note: Looking for a way to network with other Herzl Alumni? Check out the Herzl Camp Connections group on LinkedIn!

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The Benefits of Herzl Camp Staff Training

May 23, 2014 by , under Benefits of Summer Camp, Letters from Alumni, What I Learned from Camp.

Keren (top row, 3rd from left) and family

By: Keren (Kornblum) Wolfe (former camper, Ozo, counselor, B’yachad Director and Education Director)

My colleagues tease me because most of my sentences begin with “when I worked at camp we…”.  Honestly, though, many of my work habits were learned working at camp with a wide variety of people.  The most important lesson I learned as a 1990 Ozo was being “on stage”.  I vividly remember the video from a large California-based entertainment park (which my husband, Ilan, watched as employee of said park during the summer 1992), that highlighted employe behavior. When an employee was out and about in the park, he or she must be polite, smiling and happy to assist any guest.  By the end of that summer I had heard references to that video so many times that it was permanently ingrained in my head.

Each time I am at a store and hear employees complain to each other about their job I cringe a bit inside because I know that is not professional. If they had worked at Herzl Camp, they would know that was not ok.  Little did I know that not only was that concept important as a Herzl Camp staff member, but it was important for all my future places of employment.

Another important skill I learned working at camp was flexibility.  How many times did we scramble to find alternate programming, which the campers loved as much, if not more, because of heavy dew? Editor’s Note: Heavy Dew is the camp phrase for rain because, “It never rains at Herzl Camp, it only heavy dews.” Living in Orange County, we don’t encounter much heavy dew, but when the art show takes over our Multi-Purpose Room and we need a large indoor location, the flexibility I learned at camp makes it easier to take a deep breath, sit down and figure it out.

I am also grateful to Herzl for teaching me how to work with a diverse group of people.  This is a skill that is so important for my work today, as many of the faculty members at the Jewish Day School at which I work are not Jewish.  Knowing that just a small explanation goes a long way helps avoid the awkward moment of someone scheduling a field trip on Shabbat.

Herzl traditions still permeate my life.  Each summer, I take my boys to Minneapolis to visit my family (shout out to Danya Kornblum, Roni Kornblum Falck and Shelley Kornblum) for a month or so.  At the end of our “session” we have a final banquet—fun dinner and goodbyes.  We haven’t included a candle sharing yet, but maybe now that the kids are getting older we can incorporate that into the festivities.  All of these life lessons and so much more make me appreciate the summers I spent at Herzl.

I am so grateful to my parents for allowing me the luxury of working at camp all those summers, and not forcing me to get a “real” job with “real” pay.  The lessons I learned working at Herzl were more valuable than anything a larger paycheck could buy.

Shabbat Shalom.

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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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