Kutz Camp of the Reform Jewish movement in Warwick, N.Y.
Kutz Camp of the Reform Jewish movement in Warwick, N.Y.

Teen leadership program spawned music, religious practices, leaders.

Keri Guten Cohen

Story Development Editor

In a statement Wednesday, Rabbi Rick Jacob, president of the Union for Reform Judaism announced that the movement’s Kutz Camp, a summer camp for teen leadership development, will close after the 2019 summer session.

URJ Kutz Camp has long been at the leading edge of creativity, innovation and leadership in the Reform movement,” Jacob said. “For 54 years, Kutz has been the laboratory of Reform Judaism. Generations of teen leaders came to Warwick, N.Y., to experiment with religious practice, write the music that inspires us today, and learn to act justly and to lead our communities. Today, we find that many of our teens are looking for these remarkable programs closer to home and at different times of the year.”

According to the camp’s website, the origins of modern Jewish music can be traced to Kutz. The late singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman was the Kutz song leader in 1969 and, in 1972, she spent time at camp teaching new songs she had written for what would become her first album (“Sing Unto God”).

Kutz Camp

“Throughout the next year, URJ camps across North America and NFTY will join us in determining how to best bring the movement’s renowned leadership programming directly to the teens in our network of camps and congregations. I know many of you will want to know what will happen to the facility in Warwick, and the honest answer is that we don’t know yet. We are exploring the possibilities.

I recognize that many, like me, will be saddened by this decision,” Jacob said, “but my hope is you will take comfort in knowing that legacy and its place in Reform Jewish history can never be diminished. Our commitment to the mission of Kutz endures as we look to take it directly to the people it has always been intended to serve.”

Do you or a family member attend Kutz Camp? What are your memories of the experience? How did it impact your life? How do you feel about the camp closing after next summer?

3 COMMENTS

  1. I spend two wonderful summers at Kutz. It was a great opportunity to connect with future leaders from Jewish communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was a sad decision — but probably the right one, as the facility aging. In fact, even during my time there in the late 70’s, the facility was, to put it kindly, “vintage.”

  2. As the composer of the first NFTY album with hits that included Ma Gadlu and Ahavat Olam, I am more than saddened by Kutz’s closing. Magic happened there. Debbie Friedman used to ask me questions about writing songs. I cannot understand why this generation has abandoned it so blithely. However, I have an idea for saving Kutz that I’d like to share with you here.

    Over the years many teenagers learned about being Jewish leaders at Kutz. Now they are the establishment calling the shots in institutionalized Judaism. Now, they need all the more to talk and brainstorm, be inspired and instructed, and create new paradigms for the teens in their charge.

    To help the adult alumni of Kutz let’s create the URJ Adult Successful Leadership weekends and holiday seminars there. We have a list of thousands of names, now we need a team to coordinate this list and send out offerings. What adult who has experienced Kutz as a teen would not want to, at the very least, come back for a sentimental journey that gives them powerful new ideas in Jewish leadership?

    Additionally, successful leadership is not only a Jewish challenge. Many other secular and religious organizations could benefit from this rebranding as well.

    Kutz can and will still sing, think, create, and inspire only for an older and wiser population….who still remembers!!!

    Michael Isaacson
    (Former lifeguard and composer – in – residence at Kutz Camp)

  3. Saying goodbye to Kutz Camp, Reform Judaism’s ‘forever home’ is personally bittersweet. I will always have fond memories of Kutz camp and the summer of 88 when I worked at the location as camp counselor. I met lifelong friends here and I one day had hoped to return to visit the location. Kutz Camp will be missed.

    Marjorie Bush, Portland Oregon

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