How Green Is My Summer Camp
Fri, 01/15/2010
Special to The Jewish Week

When her parents last year asked her if she wanted to attend a sleepaway summer camp for the first time, Lucy Nye, a third-grader at a Jewish day school in Los Angeles, left no doubt what she thought of the idea.

“Mom, I hate camp” is what she told her parents, recalled her mother, Jennifer Nye, a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Her reluctance may have had something to do with the fact that “she never even had a sleepover away from home,” her mother added.

But the moment Lucy was told several months later of Eden Village Camp, the Jewish community’s first overnight summer camp devoted to the environment, the 9-year-old changed her mind, said her mother, who learned of 

 the camp from a classmate.

“I changed my mind because it’s a Jewish camp and I was excited about the camp’s activities,” said Lucy, who has become something of an environmental activist. She also loves hiking, fishing, caring for animals and learning about geology, her mother said.

The camp that drew Lucy’s attention, Eden Village, is in Putnam Valley, N.Y., about an hour from Manhattan. After a three-year planning period, the camp is expecting between 80 and 120 children for its inaugural summer, beginning June 30. Along the way, it has received the enthusiastic support of UJA-Federation of New York, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and environmental groups like Hazon, all of which see Eden Village as a pioneer in the Jewish world — one that has the potential of reaching and inspiring thousands of Jewish youth.

“Eden Village is not only the front edge of the Jewish environmental movement, but the future of the Jewish community,” incorporating many of the values the Jewish community cares about, said Nigel Savage, executive director of Hazon.

“It’s exciting to know that a generation of Jews will go through Eden Village,” Savage said. “I wish I could be 9 years old and go to the camp myself.”

Open to third- through 10th-graders, the camp’s nearly 250 acres will include an organic farm, chickens and goats; lakes, hiking paths and biking trails and “green” buildings, such as a theater and a dining hall. In addition to the usual array of summer activities, like swimming, boating and softball, children attending Eden Village will work on the farm, learn wilderness skills, care for the animals, and cook and eat what they’ve harvested. Campers will also participate in a variety of workshops, such as those devoted to cooking, bicycle-building and photography.

Weaved into many of those activities will be the camp’s Jewish-education component, which will emphasize the Jewish values and traditions connected to them. Jewish programming will feature Shabbat celebrations, storytelling from the Torah and a period each morning devoted to “sacred space,” such as praying, meditation and singing. The food, of course, will be kosher.

Finally, the camp will also offer a counselor-in-training program for teenagers in their last two years of high school, as well as a four-day “family camp” toward the end of the summer.

All of this is the vision of Yoni and Vivian Stadlin, residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn, who are also the driving force behind Eden Village. Now the camp’s directors, both have spent the past three years engaged in the nitty-gritty of applying for grants, working with vendors, marketing and building both program and staff — all elements in bringing their dream to fruition. Those who’ve worked with them describe them as “idealistic,” “magical,” “energetic” and “devoted.”

The idea for the camp “kind of popped up” in his mind three years ago, while he was standing over a sink, washing dishes, said Yoni Stadlin, 31, who earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and has directed Camp Tevah, a science and nature camp sponsored by the 92nd Street Y. His first key supporter, of course, was Vivian, 29, a lawyer he met on a Birthright Israel trip.

Things began falling into place when UJA-Federation, which owns the site on which the camp is based, offered to lease the land to Eden Village, said Deborah Joselow, managing director of the federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal.

“This is the definition of the word bashert,” or fated, Joselow said, adding that the land came into the federation’s possession after it was used for many years as a Jewish camp. In fact, she continued, the former owner sold the land to the federation “for the express purpose of developing the property as a nonprofit camp — in our case, a Jewish camp.”

Since the property hasn’t been used as a camp in many years, the federation leaders are seeking investments to renovate the property and bring it up to the standards envisioned by Eden Village, Joselow said. She estimates that “creating the camp’s total environment” will eventually cost “in the neighborhood of $3.2 million, half of which has already been raised.

Another crucial element came into play when the Foundation for Jewish Camp, a group devoted to strengthening the Jewish community through “transformative experiences” at Jewish non-profit camps, announced grants to Eden Village and four other newly established, overnight, specialty camps. The funds for those grants — each $1.1 million over four years — are from the Jim Joseph Foundation, said Maggie Bar-Tura, FJC’s interim CEO.

What triggered those grants, Bar-Tura said, was the discovery that “more and more Jewish families were sending their children to specialty camps” — those emphasizing certain activities, like music, science, tennis or the performing arts. None of those camps were Jewish, she added, prompting her organization to seek proposals for the creation of Jewish specialty camps.

The foundation has also established a “business incubator” for each of the new ventures, providing them with mentors, consultation and technical assistance.

As Eden Village prepares for its first campers, all those involved with the camp are looking forward to what they hope will be the start of something huge.

In Park Slope, Yoni Stadlin talks about “encouraging kids to live in greater harmony with themselves, with the community and with the earth. We’re really in the business of creating world-fixers” while building self-esteem. 

And at UJA-Federation, Joselow speaks of the “rough year” that just passed and the promise of a better one.

“To know that we’re building toward something that’s going to be an area of learning for children and families is very inspirational,” she said. “It’s always good to have a reason to smile.”