Archive for 'Letters from Parents'

A Baba’s Top Ten

October 15, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents, Why We Love Camp.

Baba and family at Family Camp 2014

By: Bonnie Vickar (Bonnie, aka “Baba”, attended Family Camp with her children and grandchildren this past summer.)

#10 – Seeing my son get giddy with excitement as we got closer to camp.  Each mile had its own special marker with an accompanying story such as the laundromat where they washed the campers clothes.  Yes, I paid money to send my son to camp so he could wash other people’s clothes.

#9 – My son showing off his graffiti on the walls of the Beit Tarbut.  Okay, it was his name on the wall and each year he added the current year.  He should have added 2014.

#8 – Walking around the camp.  Remembering the old Herzl while appreciating the new, especially the air conditioned rooms we stayed in.  Aaron was quick to remind his son, Nelson, that when he was at camp they had to improvise their own gaga pit by placing benches on their sides.

#7 – Challah making on Friday morning to be followed by Challah eating at dinner.  Grandchildren have a way of adding that special something to everything they touch.

#6 – Time set aside for Shabbat preparations.  I have never been a camper at Herzl but 23 years ago, with all three of our kids at camp, my husband and I were invited for a regular Shabbat weekend.  I remember laying in our cabin listening to the voices of the campers as they passed by on their way to the haks (bathrooms).  Their laughter, their singing and especially those practicing for the services was more uplifting than any Rabbi’s sermon.  It was simply from the heart.

#5 – Seeing everyone dressed in white joining the Shabbat caravan.  For us, it was 3 generations together.  Yes, I was moved to tears.  As I was fumbling for tissues my grandson came back to walk with me.  Never enough tissues!!

#4 – Shabbat morning cinnamon rolls.  I had 2, confident in the knowledge that there are no calories at Herzl Camp.

#3 – Services at the Mercaz.  Simple and meaningful set against a perfect backdrop.

#2 – It was pure pleasure watching everyone enjoy the waterfront Shabbat afternoon.  Nelson, now 8, paddling his own kayak.  Isabelle, also 8, and Ansley, age 9, swimming and enjoying the afternoon as only children can.

#1 – Of course number one has to be being with my children and grandchildren.  Hearing my son reminisce with  former campers and sharing my grandchildren’s new experiences.  Shabbat morning, Nelson in his PJs,  playing chess with his cinnamon bun sticky fingers.  Isabelle with a huge smile on her face each time she rang that bell on the rock wall.  Ansley dancing with her Dad on Saturday night.  When did she get so tall?  So much happiness and no batteries required.

Because I was the oldest one at Family Camp, I give myself permission to ramble.  My son was a very good hockey player.  In 1997, he was playing for the University of North Dakota when they won the Division I national championship.  While in high school, the team parents were shocked to find out that Aaron was not spending his summers at one of the many elite hockey camps.  They didn’t understand that he was going to an “elite” camp.  The skills he would develop, and I am not talking about doing laundry, were far more reaching than what happens at an ice rink.  Whether he was a camper or staff, his summers at Herzl challenged him, energized him and grounded him.  I know his experience was not unique.  At Herzl Camp, no matter what you bring to the table, you are made to feel that is exactly what is needed.  Seeing my grandchildren briefly interact with the staff I felt that legacy of caring is as strong as ever.  When we left camp, Nelson asked his dad to stop so he could take a picture of the Herzl sign.  In one way or another, I think everyone took home a little piece of Herzl. I know I did!

Editor’s Note: Interested in joining us in Webster for Family Camp 2015? Click here for details and registration information. 

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Tutus and Clown Shoes

October 8, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Campers, Letters from Parents, Letters from Staff.

By: Hannah (2014 Noar Camper)

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally written by Hannah for a creative writing assignment to write about a special place.  It is posted with permission from her parents. 

Herzl Camp

Herzl Camp is just so magical because when you walk into camp you are free to be yourself.  You can wear a tutu and clown shoes and nobody really cares.  When you walk out from the bus, counselors are screaming their heads off, give you high fives…but it is only just because you are here.  They sing songs and then comes the most exciting part of all…you get to find out who is in your cabin!  After that, they call our names, we sit down and eat cookies and lem-lem (which stands for lemonade).  We sit in a circle and we say our names and our favorite ice cream and stuff like that.  Then, we go to our cabin and each cabin has a theme like “the cupcake makers”.  My theme was sailors.  We learned a song for our cabin.  My song was “we are sailors va va va”.  You will learn one too.

Each cabin has a Hebrew letter or a number – it matters where you are.  For example, I was in cabin Vav in Kadimah Land.  And then came the lake swim.  The cold lake swim. Boy was it cold.  But can I tell you a secret…When you go into the lake, go in holding hands all as a cabin and just run in and then, if you want you, can do ring around the rosie and then you dunk when you say “we all fall down”…that’s what I do.  Or, if that does not help, do high knees.  After the lake swim you get your bed all ready and then that brings you right to dinner and there was a really cool saying for dinner on the first night and it is “GET READY FOR SPAGHETTI!”  After dinner, there was an after dinner activity and then after that was over you will walk back to your cabin and you will go into your cozy bed and the counselors will sing you a song and then you go to sleep then the next day will be the funest day ever and so on for the next days.

P.S. Soon you are going to make your best friend ever and you are going to email your counselors.

Herzl Camp is my second home.

Family Camp 2014

A Note from Hannah’s Mom, Wendy Clyman: 

After I had the chance to read the above journal entry that Hannah wrote for school, my first thought was – is this the same kid that had second, third and fourth thoughts about going to camp?  My second thought went instantly to her Noar counselors and how amazing each one was because they helped her have the most amazing summer.  Raleigh Kibort, Becca Lear, Rachel Alter – I would love a chance to let your parents know what a profound impact you made on my daughter this past summer.  You are role models for her, she looks up to you and there isn’t a day that goes by where she does not mention one of you.  Being an only child, Hannah doesn’t get a chance to have an “older sister” type relationship…but then she goes to camp and can have young ladies like you around for an extended period of time.  It is absolutely priceless.  Your parents should be proud of each of you and I would like to let them know how thankful I am that they raised such wonderful young ladies.  For parents that are reading this and wondering if Herzl Camp is the right place for your child, I can honestly say it is, you will not find a better group of young people to help guide your child, teach your child and love your child as if they were one of their own.

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Beyond the Empty Nest

September 19, 2014 by , under General Posts, Giving Back, Letters from Parents.

Matt, Brett & Adam as campers...Or, Brett, Matt & Adam. Can you guess the order?

By: Cindy Tarshish (mom of Gabe, Evan & Adam and former Herzl Camper) and Wendi Rosenstein (mom of Brett & Matthew)

While volunteering at the Herzl office last week (which is great and you should try it sometime), we were asked how we were handling being empty nesters.  We both sighed and admitted that we really missed our boys.  We then decided that we would simply ignore the fact that Adam, Brett and Matthew are in college but rather pretend they are just staffing camp for the next eight weeks.  What happens at the end of eight weeks remains to be told, but we will keep you posted.  In all seriousness however, we are grateful that having our children attend and staff Herzl Camp in some way has prepared us to let our sons go off in the world, or at least to Brandies and UW – Madison.

We know these boys have learned wonderful life lessons behind those orange walls.  They have learned daily living skills such as sharing a bathroom with several cabins at a time, how to wake up on time (or have an OZO wake you up), how to get dressed and to flag within 10 minutes, and how to share meals, chanut and care packages with your cabin mates.  They have also learned larger life lessons, such as comforting a friend who is homesick, being inclusive to campers with special needs, and respecting the staff and camp.

Adam's in the middle...can you guess which one is Brett & which one is Matt?

They have earned the respect of their peers and older Herzl staff because they are menches.  We give them up to Herzl every summer and know they are safe and loved.  They are embraced in their summer home just as they hope to be at home among their college friends and professors who will guide them through even more life lessons.

What is the take home from this blog?  We are grateful that Herzl has had such a positive influence in our boys’ lives and we can rest assured they will use this experience to transition well into college life.  While on the one hand we are happy and excited for them, we both still seem to be transitioning to the life of empty nesters.  So, if you see us a little too often volunteering at the Herzl offices, you will know it is our new way of handling being empty nesters.

Shabbat Shalom.

Editor’s Note: If you, too, find yourself with an empty nest and are looking for something meaningful to do,  join the Herzl Chaverim – a group of volunteers who join us in the office on a monthly basis to help with a variety of projects.  Click here for more information about volunteering. 

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Grateful and Blessed

August 15, 2014 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

By: Amy (Swatez) Fiterman

#gratefulandblessed
#herzlcampmercazmagic
It’s our annual family driving trip. But let me explain that this is not your ordinary or average driving trip…This is so far from the norm that you have to be navy seal certified. There is no rest for the weary. This is a carefully constructed, planned out to the minute, intense experience that my family of five anxiously looks forward to every year. We all crave the hours of being together, bonding, trying new things, and eating ourselves silly with every delicacy of every state or country we stay in.

The Fiterman family on their Seattle adventure

As we conquered Seattle, Washington, (and yes we did do just that) I had a few minutes to sit back and watch the delight in my kids eyes as they were taking in all the amazing things that this beautiful city had to offer. I kept pinching myself, saying how fortunate I am and how fortunate we are to get to do these things as a family. As I reflected on my childhood and thought about how grateful I was to be able to do the things I did, I thought back to my summers at Herzl Camp. I feel so blessed to have made the life-long friendships I have to this day. While we were driving, I look over and see my best friend, the love of my life, my partner on crime, whose relationship Herzl had cultivated many years back, and I say to my kids, “do you guys know how lucky you are to be able to do these things!?” I am so thankful everyday, for my experience at Herzl Camp because it’s where I got to grow and experience life skills in a Jewish environment. It’s where Jack and I were able to be young and free and share our ideas on life and share our love for Judaism. Today we are married with three beautiful and healthy kids, and we are still doing all of those things and more together, thank G-d.

So, long story short…a year and a half ago, we were invited to an event where Peter Himmelman was brought in to do something called The Big Muse as a corporate team building experience. Well let’s just say great minds think alike because both Jack and I left that night so inspired by what took place just hours before, and our ideas were firing off like fireworks. We had this whole crazy idea of this amazing experience of bringing Peter Himmelman to the Mercaz at Herzl to do The Big Muse and concert for everyone to enjoy and explore their own Jewish journey. We had it all mapped out and romanticized in our heads of what we wanted it to be like, where we wanted it to be, and how we wanted it to feel. We felt that the idea of having it up at Herzl, at the Mercaz, would really allow for the floodgates of emotions to connect everyone to their own path of Judaism and what it means to them and their lives. Now we just had to convince Herzl to let us do this. So, after a couple of meetings with some key players at the Herzl office along with Jack’s persistent and convincing nature, this crazy idea came to fruition! We were in like Flynn! We were beyond excited, over the moon- thrilled! This was our chance to give back to Herzl, what we had learned during our time as campers and staff.

The culmination of our passion is called Music & Musings at the Mercaz, Herzl’s first-ever benefit concert. Yes, we were able to meet our goal of bringing Peter Himmelman to the Mercaz at Herzl for a spectacular event that will help camp! On September 14, 2014, Peter will join us at the Mercaz to perform some of his top hits as well as his Big Muse project. We can’t wait to share it with all of you!

We are both passionate about giving every kid the opportunity of having a Jewish camp experience and for every child to be able to experience a similarly amazing camp experience with inclusion capabilities so it just made sense to incorporate those things into the event . Editor’s Note: Through sponsorships and ticket sales, this event will raise money for camp scholarships and inclusion services at camp. Working together on this event has been an unbelievable labor of love. We are so grateful that we could work with Herzl to make our dream become a reality.

Amy and Jack

This has truly been an amazing thing to watch as it’s grown. Our crazy little idea has grown tremendously with help from so many people we are so thankful for. I would encourage everyone to do yourselves a favor, and join our passion! Scholarships and inclusion needs touch so many of us or someone we know…please join us in supporting those efforts! I promise you, you won’t want to miss out on this “first time event”!

Music & Musings at the Mercaz is sure to be a spectacular event! I hope to see you all there!

Shabbat Shalom.

Editor’s Note: Click here for event details including sponsorship and ticket sales.

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Inspiration for Giving Back

September 25, 2013 by , under General Posts, Giving Back, Letters from Parents.

The Berman Family...L'dor V'dor

By: Charlotte Berman

Editor’s Note: The Berman Family recently started an endowment fund at camp. When asked why they started the fund, here is Charlotte Berman’s response. 

Is it the fact that all three of our daughters went to Herzl and loved it?  YES!

Did we send them there because it was a safe Jewish environment where they could strengthen established friendships and make new lasting ones? YES!

Is it because Herzl fostered a pride in their Judiasm and in their heritage? YES!

Is it because their experiences at Herzl taught them leadership and independence? YES!

Is it because we spent a weekend at Herzl and felt for ourselves the ruach, excitement, zaniness and fun enjoyed by all the campers? YES!

Is it because while at Camp we witnessed the caravan of campers and staff dressed all in white, singing, stopping at each cabin, increasing their numbers as they walked down to the lake to welcome in Shabbat? YES!

Is it because after meals we saw the campers standing on the tables, group after group, singing, shouting and dancing and having such fun? YES!

Is it because we went to Family Camp at Herzl and had a great time and felt a real part of Camp? YES!

Is it because now the next generation, our grandchildren, are Herzl campers who start counting the days until the next session on the day they come home from camp? YES!

Is it because as a part of contributing to the capital campaign we kvelled over the refurbishing and addition of new cabins and buildings on the beautiful campsite? YES!

Is it because we think the staff and board of directors at Herzl are top notch? YES!

Is it because we feel a strong connection to Herzl and we find ourselves being ambassadoers and promoting Herzl for our friends children and grandchildren? YES!

Is it because we want to give back to the community and ensure Herzl Camp will be there for our great grandchildren and for all future generations? YES!

And lastly, is it because our daughter, a former Mama Ozo married her Papa Ozo and gave us three fabulous grandchildren? YES! YES! YES!

Click here to learn more about how to start your own endowment at Herzl Camp.

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My Israeli Boys

July 26, 2013 by , under General Posts, Israel, Letters from Parents.

Nicole and the Boys

By: Nicole Schachtman

My boys, ages 12,9 and 7 can ride their bikes to Starbucks with their friends on any given day of the week….about 2 miles from my house. I worry about the cars on Oak Ridge Road until they find their way to frontage road by Eisenhower elementary—because then they are home free.

Our 5 Israeli boys whom we had the pleasure of hosting for 4 days last week succeeding their time at Machana Herzl has given me a new kind of feeling about that 2 mile bike ride to Starbucks.

I fell in love with them upon arrival. I received them at Beth El on Monday morning and I was greeted with hugs and manners and accents and an all too familiar boy-to-mother type of ache.

Hanging out in Minnesota

They could be mine, any one of them; not because of their soulful puppy like brown eyes—my boys have blue eyes;  not because of their varying heights and builds. It was their innate reflex to help each other with their bags that caused a familiar lump in my throat. Their mothers selflessly had the foresight to send their boys to Herzl camp this summer so they could feel for 4 weeks the way my boys feel everyday when they wake up until they fall into sleep—free, independent, and ready to feel the winds of wonder.

I live 2 miles from Starbucks. These boys live 2 miles from the Gaza strip. I live in a safe and friendly neighborhood not unlike the kibbutizim that make up their community in Israel. My kids rush outside to play basketball, ride their bikes, and run around dodging water balloons. My Israeli boys wake up and wonder if “it is a war day or not”…and then they do the exact same things my boys do…at a playground that is actually an indoor bomb shelter.

Adventure at the Mall of America

Last week, my Israeli boys together with mine have: gone swimming, accompanied me to Byerlys—and prepared for my family a traditional Israeli breakfast, played at the Mall of America untill they shut it down, ate McDonalds, and went on a Segway tour of Minneapolis.

My full house is now very quiet. Our guests left not as guests but as family that G-d willing we will see again, next time, in Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Editor’s Note: Herzl Camp brings Israeli teens to participate side-by-side with their American peers – sharing cabins and canoes while building friendships that bridge the ocean and ignite the campers’ passion for Israel. Click here to learn more about our Israeli Camper Program. 

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On Being a Herzl Camp Mom

June 21, 2013 by , under General Posts, Giving Back, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

Mindy with her beautiful family

By: Mindy (Kitsis) Stillman

Editor’s Note: Mindy is a former camper and current camper/staff parent. She has served on our chug committee and a parent panel, worked as an event volunteer and (her favorite role) worked as a Taste of Herzl bus volunteer where she greets new Tasters as they board the bus for the very first time.

My Grandpa, a devoted philanthropist, taught me a young age to give back to your community and to help those who have made a difference in your life. So, naturally, becoming a member of the Herzl Chaverim (Herzl’s volunteer corps) was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to Herzl Camp.

Once a month, the Chaverim gathers at the Herzl Camp office to help out in a variety of ways. Our duties include everything from writing camper birthday cards and stuffing envelopes to assembling 750 Family Guides. The group of volunteers is diverse and includes everyone from parents and alumni to grandparents and campers. Each one of us has a special relationship with Herzl Camp. As we work together, our stories unfold and we share our own personal Herzl connections with one another. There is always some overlap. I may be stuffing envelopes with a parent whose child was a camper with one of my children. Perhaps the volunteer sitting next to me was an Ozo with my brother. Or, maybe, we discover our connection to camp is simply in giving back.

As a parent, volunteering is a way to make a positive impact on Herzl Camp without having to sleep in a cabin on Devils Lake all summer (even though so many of us wish we could). One of the best parts of spending time in the office during the “off season” is that I get to know the professional staff and see how hard they work as they tend to every aspect of camp with meticulous detail and passion.

My mom, brother, husband and I were all campers at Herzl. This summer, however, will be my 13th year in my most important role at camp…as a Herzl Camp Mom. I will have a camper, a staff member and a Hanhallah (senior staff) member at camp this summer. Herzl has impacted our family in such an incredibly positive way and, for that, I am so grateful. And, I am grateful that my Grandpa taught me the importance of giving back to organizations that have made a difference in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Herzl Chaverim meet monthly at the Herzl Camp office in St Louis Park to get the business of camp done.  Generally, the Chaverim meet the 3rd Wednesday of the month. Click here to learn more. 

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Skits vs Shtick

May 24, 2013 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

Corey and his family

By: Corey Kirshenbaum

Editor’s Note: Corey was a Herzl Camp Counselor from 1980-83. He is married to Marcy Noodell, who was an Ozo in 1981 and a staff member from 1982-83. Their son, Ryan, was a 2010 Ozo and their daughter, Kylie was a 2012 Ozo and will be a Madricha (counselor) this summer. 

Live from New York its Saturday Night! Yes, I know that I am blogging for Herzl Camp, but I can’t help myself in thinking that Saturday Night Live and Herzl Camp have a lot in common.  So, let’s start with Saturday Night Live. It opens with a long list of cast members before finally naming of the host for the evening. The host presents a funny monologue and next comes the skits.

So why is this like Herzl Camp?  Each year, for decades, a new host is hired. It may be a Madricha (counselor) or even member of the Hanhalah (Senior Staff).  Staff members are hired for their abilities to nurture and enhance the environment for campers. But, it is the hidden talents of the staff that remain undiscovered until just the right moment that surprise us each summer. Someone can get up at any moment during a meal or an evening program and spontaneously entertain the entire camp. In my day, people like Andy Halper, Jeff Usem, Ricky Bloomfield, Mike Fine and Steve Gottlieb come to mind. Although I have not been to camp for 30 years, I hear this still occurs. Today it may be Eli Leonard, Noah Sanders or Adam Levitt (I heard from several sources). 30 years later, the “wild and craziness” (pun intended) is the same. Such entertainers have been vital to the traditional shticks of Herzl Camp.

Herzl Camp is known for its shtick. And I mean rolling-on-the-floor-laughing shtick…from Three Chartreuse Buzzards to Twelve Gates and everything in between. Herzl Camp Shtick is the best! How do they come up with these things? No one knows. It’s just like Saturday Night Live…it comes to them as they are live and in front of the campers. That’s the best part. No one knows who is going to be the next schtick-maker at Herzl. It could be that quiet camper with a knack for impersonations or a counselor with funny sarcasm that is noticed by his cabin. In fact, you might not even know it, but one day you might wake up and realize that you are the schtick-maker.

As you flip through old scrapbooks and photos from camp, you’ll remember the camp schtick that kept you laughing and engaged each summer. Whether your summers included King Farook or some other memorable character, Herzl Camp schtick is top notch and could possibly even rival Saturday Night Live skits (or in some cases, even trump the SNL skits).

I realize that most of the Madrichim (counselors) don’t go on to become famous stars like the cast of SNL.  But I can tell you that the schtick-makers of Herzl Camp live forever in the hearts of Herzl Campers. Herzl shtick lives on for decades and then new shtick begins. Even if you don’t make millions, it is sure fun while it lasts. Who will be the next shtick-maker?  It could be you.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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A Gift for Hanukah

December 7, 2012 by , under General Posts, Holidays, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

By: Randi (Bernstein) Lachter

Last week, I met with our Rabbi in preparation for our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. The purpose of the meeting was to review the synagogue’s ritual requirements and rules. The Rabbi had a very detailed checklist that included assigning honors, the synagogue’s kashrut policies, attendance at Saturday morning services, setting up a rehearsal, preparing a drash and finally, continuing the commitment to Judaism after becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

I am happy to report that we passed with flying colors. The most telling moment was when the Rabbi asked about how we were going to keep Sonia committed to Judaism. “Do your kids go to Jewish Summer Camp maybe or . . .” I interrupted (maybe not the best etiquette but passion overtook me). “Are you kidding, of course they go to Jewish Summer Camp!” The poor Rabbi had no idea what she was getting into. I reminded her that when requesting Sonia’s Bat Mitzvah date, I clearly explained why summer was off limits for the Lachter family.  Within a few minutes of describing the power of Herzl, how Eric was a camper from ages 9 – 17 (yes, it’s true), how we both worked there for many years, how we met there, how my dad went there, how my closest, dearest friends are from Herzl and how both of our daughters are now campers, she responded, “You’ve got it covered.”

On my way home, I couldn’t help but reflect on how someone who grew up in Sioux City Iowa now living in Northern California, an area notorious for its unaffiliated Jewish population, confidently passed the Rabbi’s ritual test. The answer of course, is Herzl. I believe that Herzl is the reason we so strongly identify with our traditions, religion and Jewish values.  Our Herzl experiences shape our daily lives and actions in more ways than we know. I can honestly say that not a day goes by without some kind of Herzl moment.

So as Hanukah approaches and we say the blessings each night, I would like to suggest that Herzl Camp is indeed, the best gift we can give to our children. It provides a solid foundation that they will pass on to their children and will help sustain Judaism far into the future.  I am grateful for the dedicated staff and volunteers who have worked so hard to ensure we can provide this gift for many years to come.  Thank you Herzl camp, for the countless gifts you have given to our family. Friendship, laughter and a love of Judaism for Sonia and adventure, fun and excitement for Liza.

I would not trade it for the world. Herzl Camp shaped me, taught me skills I use everyday and provides me a solid grounding to which I can always return.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah!

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54893

November 9, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

Amy with Kevin Martone, Grinspoon Institute's Technology Program Manager, at the conference

By: Amy Friedman (current Herzl Camp Board President, current camper mom, past camper and staff member of Herzl Camp)

Did you know there are other Jewish camps?  It turns out there are 77 of them in North America!  Many of their staff and board members were in Springfield, Mass, at the Grinspoon Conference earlier this week.

Sometimes we think no one loves their camp like we love our camp.  How could they?  But as I was sitting in a room full of camp professionals and board members, about to start the Motzi, thinking exactly that thought… a woman walked in front of me wearing a camp T-shirt with a zip code on the back! Who knew that other camps refer to their camps by simply stating their zip code?

We pride ourselves on the fact that so many family generations attend Herzl camp.  Before the new cabins, you might have laid down in your bunk that first night and looked up to find your grandma’s name carved into the bunk above you.  Only at Herzl, right?

Wrong!  Again I learned we are not alone.  The conference’s key note speaker, Mark Ravech from ESPN’s Baseball Tonight attended Camp Baurcrest – as did his grandfather, father, uncles and cousins…

So maybe other people do love their camps as much as we do!

And there are some great camps out there, doing cool and interesting things, with campers and alumni who love them!  I learned about great programs, amazing and fun facilities, like zip lines and high ropes courses, and dining halls with indoor/outdoor fireplaces.  That is what was great about being with so many Jewish camps at this conference:  We learned from each other and inspired each other to think bigger and get even better.

But, as much as it was clear that other camps are well-loved by their alumni and campers, I did hear common themes that make me think maybe we do love our camp more.   Many camps struggle to fill their beds and are always looking for new ways to recruit campers.  Lots of camps have trouble fully staffing camp, often hiring up to the day camp starts.

At Herzl, we are blessed with abundance in so many ways.  Our enrollment has been maxed out for the last 4 years.  Our families’ recommendations to their friends and family is our main recruitment tool, followed by being a “legacy” camper – the child of an alum.  Year after year, we are fully staffed by January and don’t have space for all the talented and dedicated staff who want to work for us.  Even more unusual, is the fact that nearly 100% of our staff are alumni of our camp!

There are many, many great Jewish camps out there and lots of alumni and campers who love them, that is certain.  But for Herzl, our rabid ruach translates to abundance – abundant staff, abundant campers, abundant donors for scholarship, and programs, and capital improvements….

So I am starting out November deeply grateful for all the many ways that we are blessed in the 54893.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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Discovering Machaneh Paradise at the Minnesota State Fair

August 31, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents, Letters from Staff.

The author and her camper after a day at the Great Minnesota Get Together

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations and Event Manager

While watching the log rolling competition at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday (yes, we actually did attend this event and it was awesome…do not judge me) with my son, I mentioned that it felt a little bit like Bikkurim (all-camp color war). No one was wearing any team colors but they were definitely cheering for their respective teams. It just felt like camp. I don’t know how to explain it. The Fair, in general, felt a lot like camp yesterday. Ok, so we don’t serve deep fried candy bars for nosh and we don’t offer butter sculpting or crop art as chugim (activities), but there was something in the air (and, no, it wasn’t just in the livestock buildings) that made me feel like I was back in Webster.

I wasn’t prepared to be at camp yesterday, I was simply prepared for the Fair. My backpack was weighed down with 10,000 bottles of Gatorade, sunscreen, a camera, Tylenol, lip balm, sunglasses, healthy snacks (just in case we got hungry while in line for the non-healthy snacks), hand sanitizer, empty bags (for carrying all the free bags we were going to pick up at every single radio station and for collecting all the free back scratchers, yard sticks and a 1,000 new pens), baseball hats, cash and even a handheld video game. I was ready to take on the Great Minnesota Get Together. Ok, so I realize I sometimes get a little overzealous while packing for an event but, you never know what you may need. Just one year, I want to go to the Fair without a backpack full of stuff and see what happens. I’m pretty sure the world will not end if I forget to bring 10,000 bottles of Gatorade.

Anyway, I’m not sure why the Fair felt like camp to me. I can’t pinpoint just one thing. It was a combination of a lot of little things. Do you know that you can march right down Dan Patch Avenue to the beat of your own drum (literally, we saw people doing it) and no one will even bat an eye? People will actually applaud. You can wear crazy costumes (though, I’m pretty sure most of the “costumes” we saw were worn by folks who didn’t intend for them to be costumes) and it seems normal. You can sing at the top of your lungs without knowing all of the words and people will join you. You can stand on a bench and cheer loudly. You can be silly. You can dance…everywhere. You can play. You can try new things. You can face your fears (though the Midway isn’t exactly the place I want to face any of mine). You can take minucha (rest time) in a zero gravity chair or under a tree. You can have nosh…all day long. You can even send a postcard to your family. You can be you at the Fair.

All of those things reminded me of camp. As we were heading back to our car, it occurred to me that as the Fair winds down and school is back in session, families have to get back into their regular routines. Sometimes that’s a really tough thing to do. You have to wake up a little earlier, buy enormous quantities of shelf-stable food packed in single serve containers and complete endless piles of forms that tell each teacher a little bit about you and your family (“yes, I’ll volunteer for the class picnic…no, you couldn’t pay me enough to chaperone a field trip to the art museum…yes, I’ll come in to your class every Thursday and cut thousands of pieces of construction paper into little tiny triangles.”) Sure, that sounds like a big transition (and it is) but before parents of Herzl Campers can transition to the school mentality, we have assist our campers in transitioning from camp to home. This is not an easy task.

If you have said any of these things over the last few weeks, you definitely have a Herzl Camper living in your home:

  • “No, you cannot stand on the chairs and challenge dad to a dance contest. It’s been a long day. Please just sit down and eat your dinner, ok.”
  • “Just because your sister moved when you said freeze, doesn’t mean she has to get you more water.”
  • “Grandma is not going to hug a pole. Please stop cheering. Sometimes she spills things – don’t yell at her. See? She’s turning down her hearing aid. Oy.”
  • “Cleaning your room doesn’t mean that you add a theme to the room. Besides, you didn’t actually clean it, you just added pictures of adorable cats all over the walls and floor. Since when do you like cats anyway? Just, please, clean your room…no themes today, ok?”
  • “We cannot challenge the neighbors to a relay race. I don’t care how much you think they will like it. If you run outside at this time of the night wearing that silly costume while chanting BIKKURIM, they WILL call the police.”
  • “Look around, there are other people in the elevator with us…please stop dancing to this song. How do you know this song anyway – it’s in Spanish. Honey, this is our floor and we have to get off the elevator now.”
  • “No, you cannot make up a cheer about our family room. And, no you can’t call it our Mo. We don’t even have a Mo – what is a Mo anyway? We have a family room and we are not singing a song every single time we walk into that room.”
  • “Be careful, you almost ran over the dog. Why are you racing into the kitchen right now? I know it’s 3:36pm. What does that mean? Why are you so hungry? Calm down. Ok, I’ll get you a cheese stick.”
  • “I’m sitting right here, there is no need for a parade. I understand that you liked the dinner I made for you and I’m flattered but I’m not going to march around the kitchen banging on my pots and pans just because you liked the food. How about you clear the table instead?”
  • “What do you mean it’s your ‘free’ day? I don’t understand? You mean you are not going to help clean up after dinner? Who is going to help if you don’t help? What’s this all about? You do not get a free day in this house.”
  • “It’s late. Please remove your shoes. We don’t wear shoes in the house. Why are you wearing your shoes to go to the bathroom at night anyway? And, why did you wake up your brother to walk 5 feet down the hall with you to the bathroom? Take off your shoes and go to bed. And, turn off that flashlight.”
  • “No, you do not get to go shopping every day after lunch. And, no you do not need a snack – you just had lunch.”

So, now what? Do you write a cheer for each member of the family and sing it every night at dinner? Maybe. But, that will get really old…and you will probably just embarrass them. Instead, the next time they sing a song when you walk into a room, ask about it. Maybe they will explain it to you. Or, maybe they won’t. If you don’t understand it, don’t worry about it. Just enjoy watching them share a part of their summer with you. By involving you in these traditions, they are giving you a little glimpse into their own unique Herzl Camp experience.

So, as your children get ready to head into the new school year, remember that their Herzl Camp experience has become a part of them. And, while you may occasionally need to remind them that “we don’t make up cheers for everything in this house” there is a chance that you may not have to remind them to set the table, or make their bed or even take in the mail. And, what should you do when they come home so overwhelmed by all their homework that they don’t even know where to begin? Perhaps you could add a little bit of camp to their day? Make up a song (just don’t sing it in front of their friends), a cheer or even turn on some music and dance with them just to blow off a little steam.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Editor’s Note: For the record, the only thing we brought home from the Fair this year was a fan…that was free. And, for those of you playing along at home, I did not actually pack 10,000 bottles of anything in my backpack. 

 

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Becoming a Camp Person

June 29, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

Lauren's "Happy Campers" at Family Camp 2011

By: Lauren Hoffman (Herzl Camp Mom)

For years I said no when my husband Ed wanted to attend Family Camp.  I kept insisting that I “was not a camp person” — I had tried it one summer as a child and it was not for me.  I explained that as I wasn’t from Minnesota, I didn’t feel a tie to Herzl and really did not want to spend a weekend there, as I was “not a camp person.”

Last summer my son Max attended Taste and in his first 24 hours I did a complete 180. I looked at the photos online and loved seeing how happy my son looked. On his second day of Taste, I called my husband and informed him that I had just signed us up for Family Cam.

When Max came home from Taste, he was so happy to hear that we would be attending Family Camp. Throughout the summer, he would randomly remember things about camp that he was excited to share with us in August which made me look forward to Family Camp. I have to be honest however, I was still not really excited about going to Family Camp and felt that I was mostly going so that Max could experience a few more days at a place he loved. What I never expected was how much I would love it.

Our family & friends at Family Camp 2011

Being at Herzl Camp reminded me of the incredible freedom I had as a child to go out and play and not come back until dinner. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where we can send our kids out to play and tell them to come back for the next meal, but at Herzl Camp we can. The camp was beautiful, the activities were fun, the staff was amazing, the facilities were modern and clean, but I was blown away by the sense of community. I loved that even my daughter Tessa, who was 6 at the time, felt empowered to run off and play and “come back for dinner.” This year, I signed up for Family Camp the day it went online.

At the buses before a 2nd summer at camp

Max just left for his second summer at camp. As sad as I was to see him leave for two weeks, I could not have been happier for him knowing he was heading to his favorite place. I have no doubt that both of my children (Tessa can’t wait for Taste next year) will spend many happy summers at Herzl Camp and will never utter the phrase, “I am not a camp person.”.

Shabbat Shalom

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Bonus Blog: The Parent-Staff Partnership

June 17, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By: Amy Cytron, Brian Herstig, Jennifer Lang & Pam Passman

Editor’s Note: While we will continue to post blog entries every Friday, we will also post occasional “Bonus Blogs”. Make sure you check back often or check our Facebook Page for updates. 

While riding home from Herzl Camp last Thursday after spending 3 hours with the 2012 Herzl staff, we could not contain our excitement for this summer. What an impressive group. They are mature, confident, respectful and filled with tons of Ruach. Definitely great role models for our kids.

We were invited to spend some time with the staff during staff week. The purpose was to get to know each other. To share why we, as parents, send our kids to camp, what concerns us and answer great questions from the staff. Too often there is an assumption that parents and staff have different expectations and goals for the summer. That could not be further from the truth. We realized tonight that the staff shares our hopes and dreams for this summer.

As the staff is getting ready to meet the buses tomorrow, they are getting to know each other, preparing camp, being trained and planning. They also do have some concerns. They are concerned about being prepared, about safety and how to best handle sensitive issues. But their biggest concern is will they be able to meet the expectations of our kids and will our kids love Herzl Camp as much as they do. With the culture being clearly…kids first, we are confident that they will.

Kudos to Drea Lear, Assistant Director, who is a product of Herzl.  She is a great role model and leader.  Snaps to her for doing such an amazing job planning staff week!

To the 2012 Staff: Thanks for inviting us to spend some time with you last week. We wish we were getting on the bus tomorrow.

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Ferris, Winona, Madonna and John Hughes…Welcome to the ’80s at Herzl

March 16, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents, Why We Love Camp.

Eric, Randi & Claudia (Sohn) Richman

By: Eric Lachter

Hi everyone, my name is Eric Lachter and I am a Herzl alumnus.  I was a camper at Herzl from 1980-1986.  In ’87 I was an Ozo (Go Ozrim!), ’88 a counselor, ’89 the Tripper and ’91 I worked on maintenance staff.  I am 42 years old, I have dark curly hair (ok its half gray), and I met my wife, Randi Bernstein at Herzl (she’s still hot 25 years later).

Currently I live far, far away from the shores of Devils Lake, in a place called Mill Valley, which is just north of San Francisco across a red bridge.  I like the west coast a lot for many reasons. In spite of my geographic distance, however, Herzl remains close to my heart. My girls, Sonia (11) and Liza (8), currently attend camp.  They are huge fans and are continuing our tradition of loving Herzl.  We all miss the Midwest – we especially miss our family, close friends and Shabbat dinner at Tzivia and Joel Leviton’s.

Joel Richman, Barry Golob, Tony Shink, Eric & Jon Adelman

I guess the reason that I send my kids 1500 miles away to camp, is that Herzl is the best place I have ever spent time, and the place that I met the best people in my life.  Some of my pals growing up at Herzl were (and still are) Barry Golob, Louis Dachis, Tommy Hoffman, Jon Adelman, Tony Shink, Joel Richman, EJ Clyman, Rich Fogel, Tony Weinstine and so many others.  Oh, and Claudia (Sohn) Richman, who was and is Randi’s pal. I’m pretty sure I owe her for putting in a good word for me with Randi. Perhaps those names ring some bells. Take a look at the photos. It was the late ’80s, and we had Alcapulco Joe, Polo and other blousey awful fashions. Oh, and sorry about the hair. That wasn’t our fault either. It was the fault of John Hughes and Madonna and Winona Ryder.

Herzl Shabbat...Sponsored by John Hughes (If you don't know who he was...look him up and then watch all his movies)

I think I’m going to keep this short and let you bask in the glow of the photos. But, here are a few things that come to mind about camp.  The first is that what I loved about Herzl, was that it gave me confidence. I learned to stand on my own two feet, be a leader and make friends. And, a lot of those friends, especially Randi, are and were better than me. Herzl made me better. Any of you who know Randi, or my friends, know what I’m saying. These folks are priceless. They are my platoon. I would do anything for them. They complete me.

Barry Golob, Eric & Louie Dachis

Oh, and by the way, thanks to my parents, Lou and Muriel Lachter, for spending the dough to send me. It was a life experience that was well worth the investment. But paying for camp was a big deal then and it’s a big deal now.

Here is my last thought…What I like about Herzl, is that it is the one place I have been in my life that is a personality-ocracy instead of a money-ocracy. At Herzl, for everyone the food is the same and the beds are the same and the air is the same. The songs are the same and the services are the same. It’s all equal. It’s like a modern day American kibbutz. It is the place where I could be the most Eric-esque version of myself. The place where my Ericness could shine.

If you see my kids or my wife or my folks or my in-laws, Jack and Gail Bernstein, at the bus, tell em hi. It really makes me happy to know my girls go to Herzl and that they love it as much as I did.

Is that Duran Duranl? Nope, just Tzrif 16. Best hair? Joel Leviton (3rd from L, back) or Jeff Rosenberg (4th from L, front).

And know that those summers in the late 1980’s at Herzl were the best time of my life (oh, and I have it pretty good now if you’re concerned). I’m glad my kids know your kids. Keep your sons away from my daughters.

Eric & Tommy Hoffman

Shabbat Shalom.

With Ruach,

Eric

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“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

February 3, 2012 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations and Event Manager

Tu B’shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, is celebrated as “The New Year of the Trees” and is when the earliest blooming trees in Israel emerge from their winter sleep.

Reflecting back on when I was a child, I recall memories of eating figs, dates and starfruit at Hebrew School on Tu B’shevat. In my room, I proudly displayed a beautiful certificate acknowledging that my grandparents planted a tree in Israel in my honor. And, I read Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree.

In high school, I had the opportunity to dig a hole in the dirt and plant my very own sapling in Israel in the weeks following Tu’ B’shevat. After so many years, of receiving certificates from the Jewish National Fund, it was very powerful to finally be able to put my hands in the dirt and plant my own tree in Israel. It was the first time I had ever planted a tree and it instilled in me a much deeper desire to protect the earth and the trees.

By the time I got to college, I was immersed in the hot environmental topics of the day. I decorated my backpack with earth-loving-tree-friendly buttons. If I saw garbage on the sidewalk, I’d pick it up and put it in my bag to toss at a later time (I know, gross, right?). I was a fierce recycler. I actually hugged trees. I walked everywhere (ok, who didn’t walk everywhere while in college).  I read books by Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey and Rachel Carson and quoted John Muir.  By then, I had all but forgotten about Tu B’shevat. But, wasn’t it enough that I was trying to save the world and protect the trees?

When I became a parent, Tu B’shevat took on a very different meaning because I wanted to teach my son all about our “New Year of the Trees”. So, naturally, what did we do? We ate figs, dates and starfruit and talked about planting trees in Israel. But, we also took the time to talk about what we could do to help protect the earth…and, of course, we read The Giving Tree.

What is it about that story? It’s so simple, yet so powerful. As a child, it was just a lovely story about a tree who was friends with a little boy. As I got older, it became a story about something much bigger…the trees, the environment, the world. Every summer, as I packed up my bags to head to Herzl, I always had that bright green book in tow. I would sit in the grass, with my back against one of the massive trees at camp and read it to my campers. I lent it to other staff so they could read it to their own campers and we used it as a theme for Shabbat Sichot discussions on a regular basis. Last summer, the bright green book was back in Webster with me again and it will be in my bag when I return to camp this summer.

So, even though I didn’t technically celebrate Tu B’shevat every year growing up, I did it in my own way. My deep connection to the earth was inspired by digging my hands into the soil and planting my first tree in Israel. And, it was nurtured while spending summers at Herzl in the fresh air, among the trees. Maybe I actually have been celebrating Tu B’shevat on a regular basis.

Tu B’shevat begins at sunset on Tuesday, February 7. So, what are you going to do?

Why not try something new? Go outside and hug a tree. Host your own Tu B’shevat seder (check out Hazon’s resources including a family friendly Tu B’shvat Seder Haggadah). Make a list of your “Tu B’shevat Top Ten”: 10 things you can do every day to help protect the earth. Or check out this video in which Shel Silverstein narrates an animated version of The Giving Tree in 1973 and then take some time to think about what you can do to make a difference on this earth.

Shabbat Shalom. And, Happy New Year to all the trees.

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Discovering that “Herzl Magic”

July 28, 2010 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By Pam Wilson

I am sitting in the dining hall on the Monday after Visitor’s Day at Herzl Camp. It is 8:15am and I am barely awake, not being able to find any decaf coffee to help me out. Because my daughter Jessie, husband Kenny and I are guests, we are sitting facing into the crowd of campers at the Director’s table.

It is LOUD.

Much louder than I ever imagined a camp dining hall could ever be. Much less at 8:15am. Zander Abrams is sitting across from me and over Fruit Loops he says, “We play loud, up-beat music in the morning to get the campers going.” 

From where I sit, these campers do not need anything to get them going. There are campers dancing, campers singing in the aisles and some campers even eating breakfast. When I passed the Kadima table (my son Joe is a Kadimanick this summer), the boys were barely awake, grunting at one another. 

I smile at Zander and simply watch. The RUACH is so loud there is simply no way a conversation can take place. But that’s okay. That’s not why we’re here at Herzl Camp. We’re here because I’ve never been to Herzl Camp (yes, believe it or not, there ARE people who have never been here), as well as to visit our son and show Jessie (a prospective camper) around. 

Actually, I am getting ahead of myself. This story of Herzl Magic starts five years ago…

Five years ago, my son Joe came home from Herzl and announced, “I had the BEST summer ever and I am going back to Herzl every summer!” Since we encouraged meeting new people and having new experiences, this was okay in our house. What we didn’t expect, was the intensity of the friendships Joe was making. Each year after that first year, he came home starting the count-down until the next summer’s departure date. 

After the summers of 2008 and 2009, we decided to visit Minneapolis and meet his Herzl friends and more importantly (for us), his friends parents. Which we did. 

The Tarshish, Spencer, Friedman, Rosenstein and Greenstein families have welcomed not only my son, but our entire family into their lives. As I’ve had the privilege of getting to know everyone, they have tried to enlighten me about Herzl. They are Herzl families, some of them like Amy Friedman, even attending Herzl as a kid. In fact, Amy e-mailed me that “Herzl is one of my most favorite places on earth.” 

I had to find out more.  If there was some sort of magic happening, I wanted in.

Last November, during our visit to Minneapolis when we saw Anne Hope, she invited Joe’s younger sister Jessie to not only visit on Visitor’s Day, but to stay overnight!!!

As we began telling people that Jessie was invited to stay overnight, I slowly began realizing how special this invite really was. Nobody had ever stayed overnight. Nobody had seen behind the curtain. Nobody had seen camp in action from the coveted spot of inside. This was something pretty special and I intended to find out about Herzl Magic myself. 

Visitor’s Day finds us in Minneapolis with our new friends. We are all driving up and after spending Saturday night at a picnic at Lake Harriet, we greet each other on Sunday as old friends. 

Visitor’s Day was nothing like I envisioned. And it was everything that I expected. (My entire knowledge of sleep-away camp, in fact, are the movies Indian Summer and The Parent Trap. In fact, as Jessie and I were walking around Herzl, she even said to me, “This looks like the camp from The Parent Trap!!!”) 

As we drove in, there were so many more people than I expected. License plates from all-over the country. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends. I couldn’t tell who was more excited: those visiting or those being visited! 

The campers were waiting on the hill and as we walked closer, our son, who is 14 and rarely talks to me in front of his friends, launched himself into first his dad’s arms and then mine. Hugging us and laughing and hugging some more. 

As we walked back toward the new cabins (could those cabins be any nicer?!!), Joe gave us a mini-tour. Herzl is much bigger than I thought. Lots of space for Ultimate Frisbee. Now I when I look at the pictures on-line I can recognize where the campers are. 

Soon after all the hugging, Joe’s cabin-mates and their parents are congregating in Joe’s cabin and gradually we all pull our cameras out, snapping away. Trying somehow to capture the Herzl Magic that is evident in front of us. The kids are patient, laughing and joking and posing for pictures and then just as suddenly they want us out. They have been given instructions: bring your parents to the Ulam for a short presentation. As we begin to get ourselves organized the skies open and we have a downpour. Eventually we all make it to the Ulam, soggy and wet and happy to be here. Then the show begins. 

My son is singing and dancing. My son is having a great time singing, dancing and being on-stage with his friends. Who is this kid and what have they done with mine? At home, you would never catch Joe singing or dancing, much less on a stage. It’s Herzl magic once again. The show is cute and then we are once more set free. The kids disperse and eventually Joe continues his tour. 

Jessie also meets up with friends whom she has met in Minneapolis (Haley and Elana Warren) and before they take off running around the camp, we get more of a tour from Ruthie (Anne’s daughter), who is a wealth of information and a great tour guide. 

Having never been to Herzl or Visitor’s Day and not knowing what to expect, (or an end-time), I am surprised as parents start saying good-bye too soon. If I had to leave then, I would have been sad. It was too quick, too fast. 

Luckily, Kenny and I are staying with Jessie as over-night guests. Joe hugs us good-bye and is gone. After we move our car and say goodbye to as many friends as we can, Kenny and I walk out into camp and it is… 

Empty. 

Completely quiet empty.

It is like a horror movie: Where have all the children gone? 

Apparently, and unseen by the naked eye, the counselors and kids have been briefed: there are afternoon activities to involve the kids once more and quickly as parents leave. I understand why. We have disrupted their schedules. It is literally like someone snapped their fingers and everything falls back into place. 

As I witness this, I am beginning to see behind the curtain just a little bit. I didn’t hear any directions, yet, the entire camp, within about 20 minutes is back to humming along. 

We leave Jessie with Ruthie to throw water balloons and we retreat upstairs where we realize how exhausted we really are. How do these kids keep up the pace? 

There are two activities for the campers Sunday afternoon and after that we are invited to go to flag lowering and the dining hall for dinner. 

Having no idea how this works, it takes us a little while to realize how to access dinner, as well as utensils. Even the youngest camper, however, knows the drill. Within about ten minutes the RUACH begins again and I watch, wide-eyed as campers sing, shout cheers, dance and have a glorious time at dinner. I even spot campers banging utensils on their table in a cheer (something Joe tried at home after his first summer and which I promptly put a stop to). Someone tries to let all the different groups of kids know where they are expected for their evening program and while I can’t decipher what she is saying, the campers are up and out, knowing exactly where to go, what to do and when. 

Here’s the other thing I saw behind the curtain: everybody does their job. Every single person has their own job and responsibilities and everybody (from what I could tell) simply does it. There could be over-lap, which I bet there is, but from my vantage point, Herzl Camp runs like it does because the staff loves being there. This is their choice – Herzl Camp is a fun place to work; it’s a life style choice for the staff. I bear witness to camaraderie and laughter and magic…even BEHIND the curtain. 

We decide to walk back through camp to our son’s cabin. There are kids EVERYWHERE – throwing Frisbees, balls, etc. There are kids hanging out in front of their cabins, talking, laughing. There are kids playing roofball near Joe’s cabin. I am trying to watch all the activity and all the kids and it occurs to me…Herzl Camp is a KID COMMUNE!!!! 

There are kids everywhere. There are rules, which the kids obviously know, but these are camp rules, not parent’s rules and it’s something the kids can not only live with, but thrive within. Everything here at Herzl is for and about the kids. The grounds, the new cabins, the food (I asked Joe if he had had anything resembling a vegetable or fruit the entire summer and he grinned at me), the activities. Everything is planned with the kids in mind and how much fun can be had. What a magical place to be. 

It is spectacular. 

It is incredible to see and witness. 

I get it. 

I finally get the Herzl Magic. 

It’s like Disney’s slogan…the most magical place on earth. I understand now why Joe lives and breathes Herzl Camp. If he could, he would live there all summer (in fact, he told me he wanted to one day own Herzl Camp).

After an evening program and a camp-fire, the kids head back to their respective cabins and Kenny, Jessie and I head up to our suite. I am so tired I can barely see straight. Jessie has had an incredible night and plans to spend the morning at the waterfront participating in camp activities. When asked she tells us she will go on her own. 

Which brings us to back to where I started, at that lunch (which lasted ninety minutes). It was the LOUDEST, most spirited lunch I’ve ever been at. There was more dancing, more cheers and lots of laughter. I sat, observing, once more how much fun the kids were having, (which makes coming home such a tough time).  My head hurt (really) and my ears were ringing. We had to say goodbye and make our way to the airport. 

After hugging Joe three times, and his commenting, “enough already, mom, leave!” we did indeed leave Herzl. 

The Magic, though, stayed with us.

All the way home.

And just like Disney (only with more dirt)…Herzl has the same kind of Magic. While I would love to explain it, I’m not sure I can … in words. It’s a feeling. Of belonging and bonding and trying new things, finding yourself and your independence and meeting new people. It’s just magic. And it’s very real. 

Herzl Magic.  Be a part of it!  Shabbat Shalom.

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Power(s) Blogging

July 25, 2010 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By Albie & Rachel Powers

Though the letter we got
Requesting the duct tape they lack
Makes us pray for their counselors
To please watch their back!

Top Ten Reasons Our Boys Are At Herzl:
10. Unlimited mosquito kisses
9. Making sand castles in the shape of challah
8. New cabins disguised as old cabins
7. Growing a Theodore Herzl-style beard
6. Saying “ga-ga” & not being called a baby for it
5. Continuously turning their shirts inside-out & coming home with clean clothes
4. Bug juice made with bugs in attendance
3. Practicing the Smores Pyramid of Nutrition
2. Week1: Shabbos Whites; Week 3: Shabbos Off Whites
1. Earning credits toward a sports scholarship to Rabbinical School

Herzl 1974 – MABA
Herzl 1983 – Ozo
Herzl 1984 – Staff
Herzl 2009 – Family Camp
Herzl 2010 – Parent
That’s the Vibe!!

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Dear Theo, Thank You!

July 1, 2010 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By Laura Silverberg

Dear Theo,

Shabbat Shalom from Davenport, IA. I haven’t written in awhile, but I visited camp last Shabbat and I thought I’d write you with an update. Rest assured, all is very well in Webster and you should be very proud…

Last Thursday, I drove the 8 hours to camp with my daughter, Madison (now 11 years old-can you believe it?)  She’s been a camper for the past 3 summers and we also attended Family Camp for 2 summers (a great addition to the Herzl line up). She wanted to take this summer off, but I felt it was critical to keep the Herzl connection alive for her & who are we kidding…I DESPERATELY wanted to see all the changes since the capital campaign, so together we went for Shabbat.

I still haven’t recovered and I hope I never do!

As soon as we saw the Herzl camp sign on the highway and started down the driveway, I got that old familiar lump in my stomach which continued to rise and swell until I saw the “Welcome Home” sign and then the tears really came (Round #1). I’m sure I’m not alone when I say “Thank You”…beyond that sign, you provided me with many of my best childhood memories and experiences.

Theo, I cried a lot that weekend.  I also sang, danced & cheered during Ruach sessions, and generally acted like an overstimulated Taster (despite my daughter’s pleas not to embarrass her). If I hadn’t seen the few gray hairs I’ve chosen not to color in the mirror (they now have real mirrors in the cabins and the Haks) I would not have known that I am now technically a grown up.

I could go on for days, but I want to get to Shabbat services, so let me hit the high points and tell you what you really need to know.

Anne Hope – The “new” director … wow! She’s been there for approximately 4 years. In many ways, she reminds me of Andy Halper (a great thing for me). She strolls around camp exuding groovy Hamisha love and concern. She seemed to know every campers name. I saw her on the waterfront, davening at the Mercaz, enjoying Ruach sessions, talking on the phone with campers parents, comforting a few homesick campers and inspiring staff (she’s surrounded herself with great people) all the while unobtrusively juggling a walkie-talkie and cell phone. She is on it – you should feel very comfortable with camp in her hands.  She clearly loves it & takes care of it as if it were her own.

The “new camp” - Again, wow.  It’s gorgeous! But the really good news is that thank G-d, it doesn’t feel at all like a new camp. I have no idea how someone experiencing it for the first time would experience it any differently than those of us from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  What I do know for sure is this:  the new Chadar still rings with Ruach, but now it holds more campers, a mini marp (more on that later), bathrooms (yeah, the south Haks were soooo nasty) and guest quarters for those not wishing to experience all the bounty of Webster’s nature (mosquitos, schvitzing & communal showers … oh my). The new cabins still have Toran wheels & hold the secrets & late night giggles of all your campers. They now also hold better cubbies, sturdier bunkbeds, actual mirrors (that no one has written on yet) & screened porches for more Tzrif activities. There are also more cabins so more kids can fall in love with you & experience your magic every summer.

Ozo Park – well …this one is a bit different due to the addition of new cabins where there used to be trees. The chickens of my Ozo summer (I feel Heidi Schechter looking down and smiling) are definitely gone. But…have no fear, kids still play ultimate Frisbee, do trust games, chill, read and dream there. Despite the potentially unstable condition (making it pretty treacherous to reach the hot tub) the Ozo Mo still stands and I’ve been told it may be made into a museum in the future, as well it should be darnit!  Thank G-d those walls can’t talk. Some of your finest campers crossed over into “sort of adulthood” during the summers they spent calling the Ozo Mo “home”.

Waterfront - it’s gorgeous! Thankfully, it still feels like camp. There are lots of great boats. New docks were installed this summer (beautiful, sturdy and safe), but this one sort of makes me sad. The Ozo’s installing docks in a frigid Devil’s Lake before the campers arrive is sort of a rite of passage – earning your Ozo stripes, so to speak.  Too bad they’ll miss that experience. (Speaking of which, I know people were getting hurt on those darned trunks, but you can’t put stickers on duffle bags and they don’t do squat in terms of decorating your Tzrif). Sadly, Devil’s Lake has gone down a bit, but good news – more beachfront! The waterfront is also now accessible to all. Ramps have been installed and are really great. Now, everyone can experience the lake. Madison and I canoed, paddleboated and played in the lake. Did I REALLY swim across the lake during polar bear swim?? Being there with my daughter – unbelievable.  I fully submersed myself 3x. Devils Lake now feels like a mikvah for my soul. 

Mercaz - Teddy, it’s the same only better. Since the days I left you (physically) I’ve seen some really beautiful places and spend time in some great synagogues…but nothing compares. I’ve always truly believed that G-d hears prayers better on the Mercaz than any other place in the world. I still believe that. As a kid, I used to sit there in the sun, let my hair dry, stare off into the distance listening to the beautiful melodies of campers praying , wondering what G-d had in store for me. Would I marry – where was he – what did he look like? Would I have kids – how many – what would their names be – boys/girls – what would they be like as people? I couldn’t wait to have the answers revealed to me. Now 42, I returned to the Mercaz to sit in the sun, dry my hair, stare off into the distance listening to the beautiful melodies of campers praying & say thank you to G-d as I turn to my right and look into the beautiful face of my daughter. My husband rocks, I have 2 AMAZING kids, a great career, lifelong friends and a full life. I am happy, healthy and my life has truly been blessed – the answers have been revealed and the journey continues.

(by the way, backs on the benches make it much more comfortable to dream. (I will encourage all alumni to “buy”  a bench, it’s a very spiritual way to stay connected & be part of camp forever).

Staff - the staff you continue to attract are AMAZING! Many of the last names are familiar – Herzl does tend to run in families. The young people who choose to spend their summers working as Madrichim and staff are truly special. The maturity, energy, creativity, devotion to Judaism and leadership they show is unbelievable. They truly love what they do and it shows. Not quite sure where staff goes for days off anymore, but they’ve got this new schtick called “12 Gates”. Suffice it to say, there’s still alotta love at camp and you can expect more weddings in the future.

Campers - we were at camp when the younger campers were there. It was waay cool! Many were there for the first time. It was really fun watching them learn the Herzl ways. I watched them interact with staff and learn to navigate the world a little bit on their own, sans parents, but under the ever watchful eyes of their Ozo’s and Madrichim. It reminded me of the Maba campers (remember those kids Teddy?) As I watched them play Ga-Ga, make friendship bracelets and learn that you NEVER stand up in a canoe, I wondered which ones would come to learn the secrets of the Ozo Mo, which ones would become Temple presidents, make Aliyah, or go to medical school and come back to volunteer as a camp Doctor. Regardless where they go or how they grow, I know that their lives will be better and richer because they were there. They will have more self confidence, more know how, more skill sets and be more strongly rooted in what really matters in the world because they were Herzl campers.

Shabbat - the caravan lives! Still a peaceful and enduring sight and the feeling of “home” hits you as you see all your friends in white and listen as the Sabbath queen is welcomed in true Herzl tradition. Campers still write songs to welcome her and they all still magically transform from schvitzy, lake smelling, uber-energized schmutzadik campers … to clean, mostly peaceful, smiling, precious punims within the span of about an hour.  Truly 1 of your finest miracles! And don’t worry, the matzah ball soup is still good and the feeling you always got singing songs by candlelight, arm in arm with your friends is still there – magic…

Did I tell you I stayed in 1 of the old Dr’s houses with my old friend Stacy Kieffer (Mosow)? We first met in 1979 … wait, 1979? How can we be that old?? She’s now co-medical director of camp. We stayed up late, recounted many memories, happy times and truly reconnected.  You’ve given the gift of true friendship to countless campers – thank you.

Oh, but what’s up with the Marp?? Almost seems like it should now be a chug-what a bummer that so many of our kids need so many meds these days.

I ended my weekend with Havdalah. The Ozo’s (amazing as always) put on a waaay cool play culminating with Havdalah…the magic … I definitely caught one of the staff members eyeing me as I wrapped my daughter in my arms and my tears fell on her head (again) as I thanked G-d and Herzl Camp when the candle was extinguished into the wine. Maybe he too was wondering what G-d had in store for him as he watched an “old Ozo” find out.

So Theo – it was great, it’s actually even better and I look forward to sending my daughter to your home on the shore’s of Devil’s Lake for a very long time. Gotta run put on my whites and take Madison to schul. You made me the committed Jew I am and you continue to do your part to ensure the future of Judaism and Israel.

Rest assured-all is right in the world.

Much love,
Laura Silverberg
’79, ’80, ’82, ’83 Kadimah, ’84, ’85 OZO, ’86 Madricha

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“Dear 2010 Herzl Staff”

June 17, 2010 by , under General Posts, Letters from Alumni, Letters from Parents.

By: Anna Simon

Dear 2010 Herzl Staff,

Is there something wrong with your phones? Did you, perhaps, change your number? I have left several messages with Drea Lear over the past few weeks to see if I could find out the name of Z’s Taste counselor and have not heard a thing. You know, I was a Taste counselor once and I think that earns me the right to know who will be taking care of my son this week. I’m sure it’s not a big deal for you guys to tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else. I tried to ask Sarah Gruesner and Steven Kane at the buses but they would not spill the beans….Don’t they know who I am?

I didn’t really read through the Camper Information Packet, so I hope it’s ok that I packed a few extra things in Z’s metal trunk.  I threw in a large portable boom box, a few water balloons, candles and matches, a toaster, some silly string, fireworks, homemade cookies and laser pointers. I just think those items will really enhance camp for Z and his friends. I’m quite sure that the 2010 Ozrim had no problem carrying his trunk as they looked like a really strong and capable group. I just know that Z’s bunkmates are going to love having a toaster in their cabin so they can have a late night snack.

After the buses left on Monday, I raced home to check the web site and was disappointed that I didn’t see any pictures of the campers uploaded IMMEDIATELY. I check the web site every hour and think you need to take more pictures of Z in general. On that note, could you ask him to put on a different shirt and comb his hair when you take the next picture? He seems to always be wearing that same shirt and he’s not always looking directly at the camera. If you could just help him pose, that would be great. Speaking of the buses, what was up with the rain? Someone promised me that IT NEVER RAINS AT HERZL CAMP. I would expect that the director, Anne Hope, could do something about that. I plan on calling Lauren (Berman) Kaplan and Sue (Waldman) Roether next week to discuss the terrible weather.

I also left several messages for Dr. Hope Frisch in the Marp to find out if Z got any ticks or mosquito bites. Why hasn’t she returned my calls? I’m sure she has a moment to invite Z to the Marp and count his bug bites for me. I doubt she’s very busy this week.

I’d like to request that Z gets moved out of his cabin and into another one. I realize he only has a few days left but I think his experience will be better if gets to make some more new friends. Actually, maybe you could just have Z call me as I really miss hearing his voice. Plus, I’d like to let him know that I sent him a care package of his Uncle Jesse Simon’s Hot Cereal.

I’m going to stop by camp on Shabbat because Flip Frisch and I will be in the neighborhood. I hope that’s ok. I’m sure it won’t disrupt camp at all and it won’t make other campers miss their families. While we’re there, I’d like to make sure Z gets a Shmutz Buster t-shirt. I promised him he’d get a shirt if he picked up garbage in front of Zander Abrams and I don’t want him to be disappointed.

By the way, when we were at Family Camp last summer, Z lost a white sock. Could you please look for it? If you can’t find it, I’d like a credit to Z’s chanut account.

Shabbat Shalom Everyone! Oh, I forgot to mention that we didn’t pack anything white. He doesn’t really have to wear white, does he?

Anna

P.S. To anyone reading this who thinks I am serious…you must be a first-time Herzl parent! Your children are in excellent hands because the Herzl Camp staff members are incredibly capable, energetic, creative, hard working, caring and responsible. I am envious of any kid who gets to go to camp with these Herzl staff members. Herzl is the one place on earth where kids can be themselves, connect with others, try something new, step outside their comfort zone and celebrate every little thing they do. Yes, I cried when the buses pulled out of the parking lot (good thing it was heavy dewing so it wasn’t so obvious) but not because I was sad to see Z go. I cried because I was completely overcome with emotion just knowing what Z was about to experience. His life will be forever changed BECAUSE OF CAMP. Thank you, Anne Hope and the Herzl Staff, for taking care of my kid this week (yep, I’m crying again).

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“Dear Mom and Dad, Camp is great…”

January 31, 2010 by , under General Posts, Letters from Parents.

By Pam Wilson

“Hello Muther, Hello Father,” was what I was expecting in those first letters home from camp. What I received was the form letter that I had made for my son with a number of boxes checked. There was one personal note: “Love, Joe”. That was the first year when Joe was just 10 and spent two weeks at a camp in Webster, Wisconsin. 

Going to sleep-away camp had been his idea when he was in fourth grade. Though I had my doubts that he would remember to brush his teeth or locate all of his socks, he did extremely well that first summer coming home exclaiming, “That was the best summer of my life. I can’t wait to go back!” 

Whew! He had no idea what I had been through. Before I even agreed, I spoke to the director a few times who assured me that kids younger than 10 love camp and I had nothing to worry about.  

I worried about everything. I worried that he didn’t actually make it to camp (I finally called and camp called back saying yes, he arrived, he was having fun and he was a great kid.), I worried that he wouldn’t take showers (required every other day), wouldn’t make friends (have you met my son?) or have a good time. 

I worried for nothing. 

The next year he returned for two weeks starting to acquire friends from different states. That was the summer we received this letter: “Dear Mom and Dad, having fun. My activities include sailing (I was raising a Kennedy and didn’t know it) and water sports. Love, Joe. P.S. Dad, I won the cinnamon-bun eating contest. Don’t tell mom.” 

When Joe was going into seventh grade, he planned to go to camp for three weeks. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but since he was positive this was the thing to do, I agreed. It was the LONGEST three weeks of my life. My daughter Jessie who was 9 at the time was incredibly lonely. Since my husband traveled with work, it was just the girls here at home and I have to wonder how bored she was with just me! After all, how much can you really talk about at breakfast?!! 

This was the summer it all clicked for Joe at camp. His bunk-mates were from Minneapolis and he told me later that he just bided his time so that they would get to know him. (he is pretty smart sometimes) Gradually the other boys realized that Joe is a lot of fun to be with and easily included him. The letter I received that year: “Mom and Dad, I was in the infirmary, but I feel much better now. Mom, I want to buy a pair of sweatpants, what size should I get?” 

I didn’t even know how to respond to that one. We can e-mail one way (the campers read the e-mails but have to actually write letters home) and so I e-mailed: “Hope you feel better! Try the sweatpants on.” In the meantime, we received another letter: “Mom and Dad, I don’t have enough money in my account, send more. Love, Joe.” We loved that one! 

When Joe came home from camp that summer, he began talking about the kids from Minneapolis more often. He was even asked to visit for a weekend that year which we allowed him to do. He was making those friendships that you often hear about. Kids who bond when they are teens and somehow manage to stay friends, even in different states. Surprisingly, these boys were the kind of friends that hug each goodbye when the weekend is over. 

Going into 8th grade, Joe and his friends all requested one another as cabin mates and I had a feeling the camp didn’t know what they were in for. They were all very nice boys who knew how to have fun. They were mischievous, but in a good way. That summer we received the following letter: “Mom and Dad, I am very sick. Tell me what to do. I feel terrible. Love, Joe.”  

This was the summer of swine flu and strep throat. We received that letter mid-way through camp and my first response was to call camp. Then, I thought about it. The camp’s policy is to call parents if a camper is in the infirmary over-night. We had not been contacted.  

I ended up e-mailing the camp: “Hi, this is Joe’s mom. I received a letter that he wasn’t feeling well. Do you know anything about this?” The assistant director of camp replied, saying, “I’ve been out on the grounds today and I’ve seen Joe participating in his activities.”  

Seriously, I was going to clobber that kid! What kind of letter is that to send home to his muther and father?!!!! When Joe did come home, he assured us it was just his allergies and at the time, he really did feel bad. But…that he had had the BEST summer of his life! The count-down to camp began the day he came home! 

Summer camp has been an amazing experience for our family. Most parents will tell you they are happy that their child is going to camp where they have such a great time. When I look at it like that, I have to agree. Joe IS having the time of his life while he is making friends, acquiring new skills and becoming more independent. 

While at camp, Joe has made extraordinary friends that we have now had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with (we traveled to Minneapolis for a weekend to meet everyone). He now looks forward to becoming a camp counselor one day. I could even see him running camp in the future. Maybe then I will get a letter home, “Mom and Dad, camp is great. Wish you were here!”

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