by Eileen Chupak Baranes, Camp Betar
I first went to Camp Betar in Neversink, N.Y., when I was about 14 years old. I went there with my best friend, Shushie, whose mother found the camp. I had no idea whatsoever about Zionism, but I knew it was a Jewish camp.
The first year we were in the Kanaim group, which was the oldest group. We were two teenage girls from the Bronx who were into boys and not much else. I loved it there. It was fun. The girls and guys were fun, and the counselors weren’t much older than we were.
Tisha B’Av came around. Whoever fasted was exempt from activities that day. So, of course Shushie and I fasted. We got bored sitting in the bunk, so we snuck out of camp and walked into Neversink, which was a small one-general-store town, to get supplies for after the fast. I remember buying a bottle of Mountain Dew and lots of munchies. Then we turned around and, to our surprise, saw all the head staff of camp in the store. Did we get in trouble! They confiscated what we bought and marched us back to the camp.
That night we had kitchen duty. We had to clean the kitchen and scrub down the stoves and ovens; it was terrible. We got so dirty and greasy; the showers in the bunks didn’t have hot water so we had to take a cold shower to get the shmutz off of us.
But don’t think that that was the end of our being bad. Our counselor, Barbara, didn’t know how to handle us. She just finished high school and was going away to college. We didn’t like her. One day we got a bucket of water, opened the door a little, and put it on the top of the door; we waited until she came in and she got the bucket of water on her head. For that she made a guy counselor take us on night maneuvers to scare us. But, please, we were from the Bronx (as a matter of fact so was he): Nothing scared us.
Until the end of camp I didn’t have a clue about Zionism. Then the guys from Machon L’Madrichim came back from Israel. They had light in their eyes. They were like magic. I can’t describe how I enjoyed listening to them talk of Israel and their experience and the Jewish destiny to live in Israel. After that I joined Betar and went to the meetings in the Bronx. Forty-six years after that I am still in Israel and do not have a moment’s regret.
Another submission was by Winkie:
Camp Betar in Neversink, NY, was divided into four age groups: Shimshonim, Hashmonaim, Kanaim and Bnei Etzel and in the summer of 1966, I was selected to head the Shimshonim. That age group was 5-8 and as a result, since their bed time was relatively early, within the parameters of a sleep-away summer camp, I was one of the counselors selected to assist in drawing up the list of supervisors who needed to be on duty, in rotation, until after midnight to assure the safety of all as well as make sure no unsupervised activity by the campers was taking place._________________________
As was suggested to me, I scouted out which male counselor was going with which female counselor so as to afford the staff a more enjoyable two hours while walking around on the parade ground, looking into the bunks and checking out those out-of-the-way hideouts, the locations of which seemed to be passed on from summer to summer while also being remarkably inaccessible at times.
I hid there and I hid there and quickly drew up a list of those who were to be coupled up, the process only taking about three days. Proud of my success, I presented the list to my superiors who then informed all involved who was to do guard duty with who. To my great surprise, the murmurings matched those of the Israelites in the desert. Since my own experience in interpersonal relations was a bit limited at that point, it had not occur to me that the first few days were actually 'try-out' time and by the time the list was drawn and issued, the "couples" had already broken up, some even twice. Now they were 'stuck' with someone they had already managed to reject.
Instead of providing joy and comfort for the task of arranging for the duty of the counselors that was on the one hand, something of great deal of responsibility but, on the other, a bit dreary, necessitating walking about, at times, aimlessly, I had become the object of frustration, anger and embarrassment when my fellow young adults found that they were mismatched.
Another few days of spying enabled another list to be composed. One that, as it turned out, was much appreciated.
And this comment was left there:
Jun 29, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I too went to a Camp Betar. It was in upstate NY but I don’t remember the name of the town as I was only 5 and 6 years old when I was there in 1943 and 1944. The camp was definitely run by the Revisionist (Herut) Zionists. A memorial tent for Jabotinsky was located at a central position in the camp and there were honor guards outside the tent on the eve and day of his yahrzeit.
We did a lot of marching to commands in Hebrew. The Hebrew was not a problem. The problem was that I still could not differentiate my left from my right.
As I was already well aquainted w/ the horrors of W.W.II and I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx I considered myself fortunate to be at a Jewish camp.
So, how did I turn out? The happiest years of my life were spent in Israel from 1959-63. My son and grandson were born there. I’m not a Likudnik but proud and, in some cases, understandingly tolerant of the cultural and religious diversity.