October 1, 2021

Giving Greatness: Jewish Federation’s History of Supporting Campers

Jill Hershorin Archivist, Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest NJ

The American Camp Association reports that there are more than 12,000 day and overnight camps in the U.S. and that more than 160 of them are Jewish summer camps! 

Originally, Jewish camps were created to give children a break from the conditions of city life. At the turn of the 20th century, at the height of an unprecedented influx of European immigrants, settlement houses and social welfare agencies established retreats to give Jewish children a respite from the crowded inner city. Some of these camps were designed to acclimate new immigrants into American society. In the 1930s and 1940s, their mission was more critical: they served to protect urban children from polio epidemics.  

Fundraising by our community’s Federation to financially assist campers dates back almost a century. At the YM-YWHA debt cancellation party in 1925 honoring philanthropist, merchant, and patron of the arts Felix Fuld, he “challenged everyone in the room to join him in pledging one hundred dollars to send a needy youngster to summer camp.” This call to the community, described in Louis Bamberger: Department Store Innovator and Philanthropist by our own Linda Forgosh, allowed hundreds of children to attend summer camp the next year. A 1929 report at the New Jersey Federation of YM-YWHA’s annual convention indicated that more than 1,000 boys and girls took part in the program.   

Many of those campers grew up to be engaged in Jewish life and often leaders in our community. You probably know some of them!  

Our extensive “Y”/JCC collection (1877- 2010) at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest NJ contains subjects that include photographs, brochures and flyers, newspaper clippings, and newsletters. The archive also has “Y” Camp yearbooks (1971-1988), which include photos from Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, Camp Round Lake, Cedar Lake, Camps at Lake Como and Milford, and Flanders Country Day camp. Feel free to contact me jhershorin@jfedgmw.org to see any of these materials.

Throughout the decades, conditions that affected the stability of the community also affected families’ ability to afford to send their kids to camp. That has not changed, nor has the impact that our Greater MetroWest donors have made in supporting this important “rite of passage” through grants and need-based scholarships.  

Federation’s upcoming Tour de Summer Camp NJ bike event on Sunday, October 10 is an annual fundraiser in which all proceeds help send local children to regional Jewish day camps and overnight camps across the United States. Check out this great article about the event in last week’s Jewish Standard. 

To visit the Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest, go to: https://www.jfedgmw.org/community/jewish-education/jhs/