Saturday, July 2, 2011

Camp Betar in The Tablet

These were the articles that David Kandel and I submitted but they never made it in:

Lost in the Woods

By Chuck Waxman

The summer of 1965 started out like any other summer as I headed up to Camp Betar in Neversink, NY to be one of the camp’s waiters. Now, Camp Betar was not just another Camp; it was affiliated with the Betar Zionist Youth movement and among the normal camp activities (baseball, swimming, arts & crafts), which we participated in when we were not serving our fellow campers, we also learned scouting, first aid, some survival skills, Zionism, Israeli songs and dances, many a time taught by visiting Israelis. We also heard stories about the struggle to create the State of Israel from veterans who participated actively in that fight.

We were a motley crew from various backgrounds, but among the things we had in common were a love for Israel, a commitment to the Jewish people, and a membership in an activist Zionist youth movement.

As waiters we were entitled to one day off a week. During the last week of July (possibly the first week in August) we were all rolling in from a wonderful day off and we noticed a lot of commotion on the camp grounds. It seemed that a 9 year old boy (Hershel Babad) had wandered off from his camp in Woodridge and was lost in the woods. We had offered help in locating the boy and we had 10 minutes before we had to leave. The scramble to get ready was on, since there was not much daylight left. The picture of us in our hiking boots, carrying all sorts of equipment (lengths of rope, axes, canteens, first aid kits, stc.) was a sight to behold. And off we went at a speed that I never knew the truck could make.

When we arrived we were assigned a specific area to search. We fanned out in perfect search formation walking deeper and deeper into the forest. As dusk began to settle there was still no sign of Hershel, so we had to turn around and retrace our steps out of the forest. As we headed back to camp we were all a little down knowing that Hershel was still be out there somewhere. We went back the next day and were assigned a new area to search. At some point the word went out that Hershel was found safe and sound after being lost for 4 days in the woods.

It is important to note that we were the only non-professional group that was allowed to assist with the search – I guess our reputation preceded us. Additionally, Hershel was found not far from where we stopped searching the night before. While we did not find Hershel ourselves, participating in the effort meant a lot to us since part of the Betar ideology was one of serving the Jewish people in any capacity that might be needed.– and that day we were need to be searchers.

An interesting post script to this story is that 29 years later (1994) Suri Feldman got lost in the woods in New England. Suri had just heard the story about Hershel from her father at their Shabbat table one week before her own adventure. She followed her father’s advice to stay in one place and she was found after two days. Life does have a way of repeating itself

Plumbing the Heart for Love

By David Kandel

In the late 1960’s I worked as a unit head in Camp Betar, a small Zionist sleep away camp which was located in Neversink, New York on a magnificent hill overlooking a reservoir.

The buildings in the camp were efficiently designed and built by members of the Betar Youth movement. There was no problem with them.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the camp’s waste system, which was apparently built by ‘local’ labor that were alleged to have been under the influence of fluid intake similar in chemical composition to what Werner Von Braun used to fuel his rockets that blew up half of London during the Second World War!

Needless to say, there were problems with that malodorous, malfunctioning system that required constant maintenance. The summer in question that odious task fell squarely on the shoulders (or should we say, plunger) of a good natured, big hearted Betar member named Eli who was always cheerful, pleasant and very funny.

That summer there was an angry, unhappy, oppositional camper in my unit named “Eric”. The short list of what Eric disliked about camp included (but was not limited to), the campers, the counselors, the administration, the food, any sports activity, consorting with any campers his own age, frogs, grass – just name it!

So what was this not so ideal camper doing in our midst on a little hill over looking a reservoir far, far from home? Family problems, no options and ‘make the best of it’.

Well, he was determined not to make the best of it and we were all just going to happen to suffer with him. Kindness, counseling, praise, rewards…nothing seemed to work and the problem seemed intractable.

Then one day the answer came to us accidentally in a ‘flash’. Actually, it came to us more like a tsunami when one of the toilets decided it would drown out all life forms in the bunk and that it wasn’t going to take anymore ‘you know what’ from anyone.

One of the staff members happened to be in the bunk at that time attempting to coax little unhappy Eric into joining his bunkmates for an activity when in walked Eli.

Eli, being very friendly, immediately struck up a conversation with the clearly distressed little boy. Eric in turn, became very interested in Eli and struck up a rapport with him and at that moment, decided that this would be his crusade, his calling for the summer. Little Eric, who detested his bunkmates and camp, suddenly became Eli’s friend …and steady assistant.

So every day when the other campers were playing baseball or doing arts and crafts, Eric would don high rubber boots, rubber gloves and follow Eli around on his plumbing rounds. And there were no more problems with Eric the rest of the summer!

If Eli was busy, they would call for Eric and in he would walk in with his plumbing combat gear and his plunger.

When visiting day came and Eric’s father came up, he was happy to hear that his poor besieged son was actually happy and productive, which was something that never happened at home.

The summer ‘mercifully’ came to a close. Eric took the kindness, friendship and sense of importance that he had developed home with him.

I never saw Eric again. Eli fondly remembered Eric even after he moved to Israel.

Eli died a hero’s death at the Suez Canal at the close of the Yom Kippur War.

For one little unhappy boy, he was a hero long before that.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Pickell said...

I attended Camp Betar from 1964-1967 and I was a counselor with David Kendall. I certainly had life altering experiences at Betar and would love to share the stories with old friends.