For three days at my 25th Herzl Camp Ozo Reunion, we acted like 17-year olds again: Staying up way too late, laughing until our stomachs hurt, stuffing our faces with gooey Shabbat cinnamon rolls and singing after mealtimes until our voices were hoarse. At the end of our weekend, we gathered under a shady gazebo and went around the circle sharing our reflections, and why this paradise called Herzl Camp held such a special place in our hearts after all of these years.
A friend next to me shared how grateful she felt to have been in a position to go to camp, and to now send her own to the same camp. We realized that going to Jewish summer camp is truly a gift; A gift from our own parents who sent us, and a gift from our community who ensured the camp was well taken care of now and into the future.
Now that we are the parents writing the camp tuition checks, it also occurred to us that this is a gift that should be within reach of all children, regardless of their family’s financial situation. I was so surprised to learn over that weekend that less than a decade ago, Herzl Camp was only providing $8,000 in camp scholarships a year. Now, because of donations, Herzl is able to provide $200,000 each year.
As the scholarship and programming need continues to grow, so does Herzl’s effort to raise the funds necessary. Two years ago, Herzl held its first ever benefit concert at camp, raising an impressive $275,000 to get more programs and more kids to Herzl. Camp lovers from near and far came together at the Herzl Camp Mercaz (outdoor chapel) on the shores of Devil’s Lake in Webster, Wis. Some came to see old friends and meet new ones. Others for the delicious spread of Israeli food and homemade Northview Drive-In root beer. Many were there to enjoy the music of Grammy-award winner Peter Himmelman, but even more impressive (OK, maybe not), Herzl alumnus. But there was one central reason that everyone was there: To continue providing the gift of summer camp to all kids who wish to go experience the magic.
Two years later, Herzl is once again inviting the community back to camp. This year’s Music at the Mercaz concert is on Sunday, Sept. 18, and will feature a delicious spread of Asian fare for lunch, a ruach session led by two-time Grammy-nominated Robert Randolph and The Family Band, and friends coming together from near and far. Herzl is already well on its way to making camper dreams come true, having already raised more than $312,000 of its $336,000 goal. Tickets start at $50 ($18 for students 16-25) and are on sale now at www.herzlcamp.org.
Jewish summer camp is a gift. A gift to ourselves, our kids, our Jewish identity and our community as a whole. By coming together as a community to send more kids to Jewish camp, we all win, creating more memories, more friendships, and well…more cinnamon rolls. Always the cinnamon rolls.