Dispatch from a Herzl Lifer

full band

Photo Credit: Herzl Musings Photo Team

I woke up on September 14th with butterflies in my stomach. I checked my backpack. Sunscreen. Check. Water bottle. Check. Bus Snack. Check. I was ready to go back. Back to the place where it all began. The place where I met my best friend, dated my husband, and learned how to play Gaga. The place where the finest grilled cheese sandwiches were ever prepared and the bug juice was always flowing. The place where Judaism finally made perfect sense to me.

I was going back to Herzl Camp…and I couldn’t wait. This time…not as a camper, a parent, or member of the Board. I was going to attend the first ever Herzl benefit concert, Music and Musings at the Mercaz, with Peter Himmelman.

Nestled on the shores of Devils Lake in Webster, Wisconsin, Herzl Camp is a precious gem in our Twin Cities Jewish community, welcoming campers from across the world every summer for eight magical weeks. Every child should have a chance to experience this incredible place. And that is how this event was dreamt up by a few visionaries in our community led by Amy and Jack Fiterman. For the first time ever, Herzl would host a benefit concert to raise money for camp scholarship and inclusion programming. Three things needed to happen for this dream to become a reality.

  1. Photo Credit: Herzl Musings Photo Team

    This event needed to take place at Herzl. And what better place to host a concert than on a stage that is more beautiful than Carnegie Hall, more hip than Paisley Park and more historic than the Orpheum Theater itself. The music had to be enjoyed at the Mercaz, an outdoor rustic spiritual sanctuary overlooking the glistening waters of Devils Lake. The place where many of us learned the Ashrei, chanted Torah, flirted with that cute boy from Cabin 14 and mastered the fine art of skipping services.

And while the space felt a little bit different than when we were campers with white tablecloths covering the picnic tables, passed appetizers and the canoe bar of Sangria, Wisconsin beer and Northview Drive Inn Rootbeer, the fresh cool air and sounds of genuine camp belly laughter brought us home immediately.

  1. The performer needed to care about Herzl and Jewish camping as much as we did. Enter Peter Himmelman, a Grammy and Emmy nominated Performer and Composer, Dream Enabler, CEO, founder of the BIG MUSE… and on and on.  But the most impressive part of his resume remained Herzl Camp alumnus. He, too, felt the magic that day that brought him back to when he was a camper. His concert was less of a performance and more of a conversation…a campfire song session… a beautiful mix of storytelling, reminiscing, connecting, and of course…rockin’ out with a packed house of over 500 wide-eyed concert goers, ranging in age from 16-86. The gap between the “bema” and the first bench of the Mercaz made for a perfect Jewish Mosh Pit, and Herzl lovers of all ages danced arm in arm under the pine trees on the perfectly crisp, fall day
  1. It had to be about the kids…even though the kids weren’t invited (hence the beer) If this was going to be a success, it had to result in sending more campers to Herzl, not just enjoying a beautiful day at camp. In order to justify the expenses of the concert and the logistics of hosting in Webster, this community had to come up with $75,000. To do that, it would mean reaching out to anyone who was ever impacted by this special place, whether a camper, staff member, Board member, parent or member of our Jewish community.

And just like Herzl has always been a place of inclusion, the opportunity to donate to this cause was no exception. 565 Donors came together to raise $275,000 to help get more kids to camp who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.

Im Tirzu, Ein Zo Agadah – In the words of Theodore Herzl himself, if you will it, it is no dream. This community willed it, and now the Herzl dream can come true for any child. Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream a reality.

Ann Miller’s chosen career in adult learning and development stemmed from the summer of 1994, when she was “Mama Ozo” and in charge of training the next generation of Herzl leaders.  That summer made her realize everyone has potential to grow, learn and succeed if somebody believes in them.  She credits her love of Judaism, grilled cheese, tetherball and lifelong friends to Herzl Camp.