Keeping The Dream Alive As We Close The Doors (For Now…)

In June 1946, Herzl Camp proudly opened its doors to Jewish children for the very first time. Now, 75 summers later, Herzl Camp will be empty. For the first summer ever, our children will miss out on the learning, playing, bonding, growing and shtick that magically happens at camp. No Shabbat caravans or song sessions, services or sichot, B-I-K-K-U-R-I-M or flag circle. Camp will be silent … and for that we are profoundly sad and disappointed. Profoundly.

To protect our campers, staff, and community, we have made the difficult decision to close for 2020.

For the last 7 weeks, our two boards and our amazing year-round staff examined endless scenarios and options that would allow us to provide camp in 2020. We consulted with the State of Wisconsin, American Camp Association, CDC, Burnett County, our dedicated Medical Committee, and our peers within the robust network of Jewish camps across the country to explore every option. We held firm, watching and waiting for a change that would make it safe to run camp. We are now here at this last moment before summer and the situation has not improved enough to comfortably run summer camp. The lack of effective testing, PPE, training, and risks identified by our staff, volunteer experts and constituents make our operational challenges simply insurmountable.

Parents trust camp with their most precious possessions: their children. This trust is a blessing and the basis of our partnership with all our camp families. At the end of the day, the safety of the children and staff would be at risk if we ran camp as … well … camp. Camp is the opposite of social distancing. All the things that make camp the magical, life-changing experience that it is run directly counter the measures needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

We assure you that this decision does not mean that we have given up. We live for camp. We love camp. Our kids need camp now more than ever. Our staff is working on ways to keep our campers connected and keep the spirit of camp alive. This announcement is a rallying cry. This announcement means that we – you, me, everyone – must do everything we can to keep Herzl Camp alive and viable for the future…for the next 75 years.

Many individuals & businesses are struggling through these unprecedented times. Herzl is no different. We face the unique challenge of giving up not months of revenue, but a full year. As an independent nonprofit, 90 percent of our income comes from camp tuition and donations for direct camper services. The variable cost of summer camp makes up 50 percent of our expenses. So, for a full year, we have lost 90 percent of our revenue but can only cut 50 percent of our cost. That, of course, leaves Herzl with a significant gap. We never envisioned being in financial peril after working so diligently over the years to manage our budgets while still growing and strengthening our programs and facilities.

At this moment, we will take time to grieve our loss. This week, we will come together virtually with campers, staff, alumni, and community members to acknowledge the milestones and cherished traditions that we will sacrifice this summer. In the process, we will also celebrate what makes camp so powerful – the friendships that span the miles and the years, the deep and abiding love for each other and for our community.

And after we’ve taken time to be together in our loss, we will address the significant financial challenge ahead. We, as everyone else affected by this pandemic, need to plan for the future. To open our doors in 2021 we will do everything we can to bridge a gap of over $2 million. We ask you to consider your part in keeping camp alive and ready to serve future generations.

Herzl Camp, and all Jewish camps, will survive the coronavirus because we will come together in support of Jewish camping. Fortunately, we have always lived by Theodor Herzl’s directive, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Together, we will keep the dream alive.

About the Authors:

Ed Hoffman is the President of the Herzl Camp Association. Ed attended Herzl Camp in the 90s and is now the parent of an Ozo and B’yachad camper. Ed, along with his brother and cousin, holds the distinction of the shtickiest donor plaque from Herzl’s 2008-12 capital campaign. It reads, “We came as cousins and left as family. Anonymously donated by the Hoffman Cousins.”

Jim Shear is the President of the Herzl Camp Foundation. Jim attended camp in the 70s. Jim & his wife Wendy, a camper, staff, & previous Herzl volunteer doctor, have spent many weeks at camp over the years. Their kids attended all their lives and continued on as staff. His favorite plaque is one found on camp’s grounds with a sincere message of love for camp that only a regular volunteer could truly understand, “Camp food… It is, what it is.”