Rabbi Zwiebel: We Faithfully Tried to Fight for Summer Camps

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By Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America

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The unhappy news arrived late yesterday afternoon that a federal judge had denied a motion to prohibit Governor Andrew Cuomo from closing down overnight camps across New York State, thereby putting the proverbial nail in the coffin on this summer’s overnight camping season in New York.

While it is true that some of the overnight camps have relocated to other states, and that some others have recreated themselves as day camps, the bottom line remains that hundreds- if not thousands -of children whose parents were counting on having them spend the next weeks in overnight camp now face the prospect of having no structured program for the hot summer months ahead. To these families, yesterday’s court ruling is an absolutely crushing blow.

The pill was difficult to swallow for us at Agudath Israel as well. Not just because of the displacements suffered by the Agudah’s renowned network of “Ruach Country” summer camps – though those displacements are substantial. And not just because we have had to disappoint many families that have been longtime Agudah camp “customers” – though the disappointment was palpable.

What made the court’s ruling especially painful to Agudath Israel was the fact that, at the urging of our rabbinic leadership and other prominent menahalim and mechanchim, we had placed special emphasis in our advocacy efforts on getting the camps up and running.

To be sure, overnight summer camps have always played an important role in the ruchniyus’dig development of our youth. This year, however, after three difficult months of yeshiva shutdown, the urgency of getting children into immersive 24/7 structured camp programs was greater than ever. Recognizing this, Gedolei Yisroel, Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim charged the Agudah to take an active role in persuading Governor Cuomo to allow overnight camps to open.

We faithfully tried to meet that charge.

Under the banner of AJCO (the Association of Jewish Camp Operators – an umbrella group formed by Agudath Israel to represent the interests of the Jewish camping community), our group developed a detailed plan, endorsed by a group of prestigious infectious disease specialists and other prominent medical professionals, that would enable the camps to open with the safest possible environment for children.

Under the leadership of Agudath Israel’s board chairman Shloime Werdiger, with the help of Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein who played a major role in the advocacy efforts, and with the participation of representatives from across the broad spectrum of the Orthodox camp universe, we arranged no fewer than three meetings with the Governor’s top staff.

And then, after the Governor finally announced his decision to shut down the overnight camps, we convened with the camp representatives and decided to go to federal court in a last ditch effort to vindicate our community’s rights by obtaining a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) preventing the Governor from shutting down the camps. We did so with great reluctance – the mesorah of Agudas Yisroel is that suing a government official is always a last resort option, to be exercised only in exceptional situations – but this clearly qualified as such a situation.

And so, we were deeply disappointed when news of yesterday’s ruling came in. We were reminded, though, of a letter of chizuk that the Rosh Hayeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l wrote some 50 years ago to legendary Agudah leader Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’l after the Supreme Court had rejected an important argument we had advanced regarding a matter of great importance to the community. The Rosh Hayeshiva told Rabbi Sherer that there was no reason to be down, for our job in this world is to do, not to accomplish; only Hashem accomplishes: tzu tuhn, nit tzu oiftuhn.

In truth, despite our loss in court, we also achieved a great victory, a victory for kvod Shomayim. As the court noted in its ruling, by the time Governor Cuomo issued his decree in the last days of June shutting down overnight camps, virtually the only camps that still wanted to open this summer were the Jewish camps. And the only camps that felt so strongly about opening that they were prepared to challenge the Governor in court were the Jewish camps.

Which tells the world something very special about the Jewish camps – and the Jewish People. To the world, summer camps may be about children swimming and playing baseball and hiking. To us, summer camps are about children learning to connect to Hashem, to develop their spiritual selves no less than their physical selves, to experience the joy of total immersion in Torah learning and Torah living.

Those are things worth fighting for, even after everyone else leaves the playing field.

{Matzav.com}

46 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful! So inspirational and encouraging to see the unwavering commitment to fight for Torah values and the dedication to our gedolim.

  2. Did BLM ask permission to march, close traffic, sow mayhem? They saw a perceived injustice and flouted the law.
    Open the camps, turn them into “orphanages” or mental asylums or hospitals. Whatever. Just get them open. Change campers’ names every 72 hours if need be. Dont be sheep lead to slaughter like the 6 million Jews. Shame on you for your pacifist attitude.
    The Chinese and the Jews are getting hurt with quotas for college and medical school admissions and they do nothing. The Latinos and the Blacks clamor for bail reform and they are now free to commit crimes without fear. The police close playgrounds to Jewish kids while the Housing Authority police look the other way on drug deals. What is wrong with this picture.
    And you will vote Democrat again in the next election because they will throw you a welfare bone? Section 8 bone? But they ignore you until election time.

    • “Change campers’ names every 72 hours if need be. ” We should become a a nation of sheker just to get camps open??????

      • Just like renaming a day camp as child care or mesivta camp as an Educational center makes it permitted. This is just one more legal way to get around the insane system the politicians have put us into.

  3. Had you tried this hard to open the Yeshivos and Shuls (instead of keeping them closed) could be you would have had more siyata d’shmaya while working on the camps…

    • Ironic
      Sleepaway Camps often carry themselves with a tremendous Gaavah.
      Not sure why they think it’s ok to treat applicants so poorly by crushing many boys and girls that apply and are rejected for no reason other than not being good for busienes. Many times after kids wait 8 weeks for an answer sitting on shplikis and than are rejected with no where else to go. Not to mention being demoralized from their peers.

      Even a Yeshiva has some measure of accountablity to a board, community or Tab.

      Camps have none. It’s a busieness. Period .
      Perhaps the camps should feel whats its like to wait so long for an answer and when trying to push your way through get rejected again.

      A little humility is in good order.

  4. Thank you Agudath Israel for advocating on behalf of all Yiddish parents. We appreciate all the efforts made and are extremely sad that this was the unfortunate outcome we must live with

  5. Rabbi Zweibel, I applaud your efforts on behalf of the camps. I would encourage you and your associates to advocate for our camps moral values as the Torah teaches vhayu machnecah kodesh. Charedei Jews pandering to those who support toieva r’l is a huge Chillul Shem Shamayim r’l. So doing can only be under the guidance of the Gedolim shlita. I respectfully request that you share which Godol approves such behavior. Continued Hatzlocah!

  6. It is disappointing, but there are many many yeshiva students whose parents cannot afford to send them to camp and they stay at home and do nothing. This has gone on for years. The day camps charge more than they can afford and there is no umbrella organization that looks out for each kid to ensure a torahdika summer. Maybe this is the message of NO CAMP FOR ANYONE IN 5780.

    Perhaps we should be enacting a George Bush like law – “No Child Left Behind in the City Without Torah Act.”

    • are you serious? their are kids without Yeshivas to go to usually(pre Corona) and you’re focusing on a luxury of sleepaway camp?

      • luxury of sleepaway camp??? Ask any mechanich and they will sing the benefits of sleepaway camp especially for the weaker students.

        • I agree that sleepaway camp is beneficial to kids. So would a trip to E.Y. or having a private tutor for a full morning.

          The same way it is cost and time prohibitive for most parents to take their kids to E.Y. or hire a full time private tutor so is sleepaway camp for most parents with large families.

          It is not true that camps offer discounts. Anyone who asks for one gets rejected and has another kid fill the spot.

          Sleepaway camp is a busieness .Which is ok. What is not ok is to call it a religious need . Klal Yisroel has done just fine for thousands of years without camps . In E.Y. kids don’t have sleepwear camps.

          It’s no different than a Pesach Hotel for kids and for parenst that could afford to send their kids away and have some quiet.

          Is a Pesach Hotel something that we should be suing a governor for ?

          Misguided and Disconnected from Reality.

  7. Remember not to vote For Cuomo in November. In general we should not be bow to politicians they’re not out for our interest.

  8. I’m left scratching my head……… This makes it seem like overnight camp is a basic necessity, a right of every frum child, like a day school education or kosher food. But in order to get some tuition relief at my children’s schools I need to fill out a series of questions about our standard of living. These include: if I send my children to overnight camp and how much I pay. It’s in the same box as “Do you have cleaning help? How much do you pay?” and “Did you do home renovations? How much did they cost?” among other interrogating questions. This leaves me thinking that our schools consider camp a luxury and that tuition should come first. I needed that tuition break desperately and was under the impression that if I sent my children to camp I would lose it. My children stay home every summer and yes, they suffer while all their friends are in camp even though that may sound outragous. I’ve asked for breaks directly from the overnight camps but the camp I was considering for my son told me they only give breaks to “Bnei Torah”. Preposterously, I had actually thought until then that we were bnei Torah but apparently the camp enlightened me by telling me that they only considered sons of klei kodesh to be “bnei Torah” and the underlying message I was left with was that these children deserve a scholarship to come to camp but not mine. Now it’s suddenly a necessity? It’s a travesty all our children are not in camp? Or is it only certain children- the ones who can still pay full tuition or the klei kodesh who’s children deserve it more than mine? Until the schools and camps treat it as a necessity, I’m sorry, it’s a luxury and I disagree with suing for this purpose. If it’s a necessity ALL children should be give the opportunity to attend, either through receiving tuition breaks anyway and/or having ALL camps offer scholarships to ANY child in need, not just “bnei Torah”.

    • “Did you do home renovations” 20 years ago I was asked the same question and answered yes. I had to renovate the main bathroom. I was asked why? So i showed the picture of the wall where half the tiles had fallen off.

    • private schools shouldnt get public funds either. until they treat yeshivahs like a true necessity for jewish kids they shouldnt get public funds. by allowing kids to wander the street (before corona happened) they prove it’s not a true necessity for jewish kids.

    • This comment ought to be mandatory reading for all yeshiva and camp hanhalah. May the day come when we all recognize the utter truth crying out from each word.

  9. Why, so camps can rip thousands of hard earned dollars from exhausted parents?!
    In Israel they’re managing without, so is Europe.
    The US can too.
    t.me/morex613

  10. Thank you Rabbi Zweibel and the entire Agudah joint effort. As Parents, we were davening that the lawsuit should be matzliach. HKB”H has other plans. The achdus that was shown in the group effort, most definitely caused a nachas ruach by the Borei Olam. I hope it continues. Please start working to ensure that the Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs open on time in September (or Ellul, for our older children). May HKB”H bring about the complete end to this magaifa and all it’s ramifications as quickly as possible. Thank you again to all the askanim who truly worked lishem shomayim on behalf of the tzibbur. May HKB”H reward them all with kol melei dimeitav!

  11. Kiddush hashem fighting for camps ? Yes they are important however kiddush hashem would have been to fight for shuls and yeshivos. We all know that.

  12. The dictum “pick your battles” is an important strategy. We know it was done with good intentions, but ill advised.

    • they knew their was no chance. this was just to look like they didnt do nothing. its completely obvious. dont know why people fell for it. anybody who was paying attention knew the state wasnt gonna budge.

  13. Camps need Accountabilty

    Too many stories of camps keeping applicants waiting for an answer for 8 weeks than rejecting a kid who now has no where to go and the embarrassment of peers. Camps have turned off many kids. Perhaps now the camps know what it feels like to be on the other end of it.
    It’s all Gaavah. Ironic how the camps have now been humbled.
    Its just a busieness and a convenience . The idea that camps are a religious need is a sheker.

    The judge picked up on that . Maybe that’s a good lesson from this fiasco. Camps could use some guidelines for a quick turn arounds
    On applicants, sensitive letters and more menchkekeit.
    A

  14. Camps have taken advantage of the frum community by creating a phony need for kids and parents having no choice but to spend money they don’t have for numerous kids to keep them from feeling that they are poor.

    The camp chinuch is to party and feel entitled and of course outdo the next camp.

    It’s been spiraling out of control.

    It’s not l’shem shamyaim. It’s alot of hot air.

    • do you know what you’re talking about?
      Yes, camps are a business, but they also recognize themselves as providing chinuch for children. Many children have gained tremendously from camp and many mechanchim strongly encourage parenst to send their children. In the camps I have been involved with, when people ask for a break, they get it and when they ask for a bigger break, citing need, they get it. Never have I seen a child turned away due to money considerations. Obviously, the camps will charge cost or close to it for these children and I have seen mechanchim raise money to send children that they felt especially needed it.
      Yes, it’s easy and perhaps liberating to type some cynicism, but did you ever do research to verify what you are saying?
      The one thing I do agree with you is that the camps are over the top. Unfortunately, the camps that aren’t often go under. This is not a camp thing. This is a generational thing which includes grocery stores, toy stores etc.

      • by any chance did those families have friends in high places? or were they extremely gifted? lets not ignore the elephant in the room. some people are treated different than others

  15. Oh, puleeeeze!

    Camps are a business, get it? A business like any other, it is not a chesed organization!if you don’t have the money and If you don’t pay, to bad! Your kid doesn’t get in!

  16. “Did you do home renovations” 20 years ago I was asked the same question and answered yes. I had to renovate the main bathroom. I was asked why? So i showed the picture of the wall where half the tiles had fallen off.

  17. Let me understand this. Without structured summer sleepaway camp our children will go out and join the “peaceful protesters” looting, burning, and shooting up our cities?

  18. First the Courts came for the …, and I did not speak
    out—
    Because I was not a ..
    Then the Courts came for the …, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a …
    Then the Courts came for the … and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a ….
    Then the Courts came for me—and there was no one left to speak
    for me.

  19. For some kids sleepaway camp gives them life.
    I know someone who came from an abusive home, had learning disabilities, and very few friends.
    She went to camp the first time and blossomed! She became herself, the self she never met before. Lively, talented, and loads of new friends.
    She’s married now and looks back on that first summer camp experience with the fondest memories.
    And I know her very well- she’s ME!

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