Kfar Ivri Staff 1965: Jerry Kohen (CIT), Frieda Minc, Mark Roth, Joel Roth and Barbara Roth Kramer, Danny Siegel, Barbara Harris (Klaristenfeld).

Twenty-five of the original campers from 1964-1966 and several members of the counseling staff met for three hours of reminiscing, catching up and singing songs in Hebrew.

They came from across the U.S. and even from Germany, virtually speaking. Many had not seen each other for more than 55 years. Those years melted away as the first “campers” from Camp Tamarack’s Hebrew Immersion unit, Kfar Ivri, met over Zoom in February for a first-ever reunion.

Twenty-five of the original campers from 1964-1966 and several members of the counseling staff met for three hours of reminiscing, catching up and singing songs in Hebrew.

The reunion was the brainchild of two of the Kfar Ivri original campers, me (I now live in Richfield, Minn.) and Barbara Harris Klaristenfeld, who lives in Encino, Calif.

Doris Rubenstein
Doris Rubenstein

I arranged a successful reunion for the teenage cast members of a Hebrew-language production of Fiddler on the Roof last year. The Kfar Ivri camping experience was far more intensive, which meant that if we could find our far-flung old friends, the response was sure to be good. We managed to find 34 campers and staff members; six have already died. Of the 34, 25 overcame time zones and prior commitments to come together and recall what was for many, one of the most formative experiences of their early lives.

Prior to the Zoom event, all Kfarniks sent their biographical information to all others on the list. This assured that everyone was up to date on each other’s family and professional status, regardless of their ability to attend the reunion. During the nearly three hours of the event, each participant shared their favorite memory of the summers spent at Kfar Ivri and how the experience impacted the rest of their life.

Celina “CeeCee” Aisner, now living in Colorado, told of what her Kfar Ivri summers mean to her. “When I first attended Kfar, I had been in the U.S. only four years — literally ‘off the boat’ — and felt I was always playing catch-up with my peers as I acculturated to the U.S and tried to deal with the normal developmental issues that we all faced at that age.

“Kfar provided me with a safe and accepting environment where I could learn one way of being a Jewish kid in America. Before my first year at Kfar, I never had any Jewish religious experiences. At Kfar, I developed a deep appreciation of religious rituals, Shabbat services and a sense of Jewish community. To this day, when I’m at a service, and I hear the old camp melodies, I feel a mystical connection to all the Jews in the world including all my ancestors, and I literally get shivers down my spine.”

On “Beatnik Night” in 1964, Mark Schneider, Joel Roth, Eddie Betel and Zevi Miller got in the groove.
On “Beatnik Night” in 1964, Mark Schneider, Joel Roth, Eddie Betel and Zevi Miller got in the groove.
A Love of Hebrew

We campers can only speculate what the motivations were for the United Hebrew Schools and Tamarack Camps in creating Kfar Ivri. Certainly, a major goal was to improve the Hebrew language abilities of the campers. More than one Kfarnik cited that it was the beginning of a “love affair with the Hebrew language.”

If another goal was to create leaders for the American Jewish community, then that, too, was largely achieved. At least four rabbis spent time at Kfar Ivri: Sanford Olshansky of Florida, Daniel Shevitz of Los Angeles, and Beverly Weintraub Magidson of Albany, N.Y. Rabbi Joel Roth of New Jersey and Israel was head counselor in 1964 and 1965.

Others have long records of leadership in Jewish communal life: Andrew Beider was a founder of Yad Ezra in the Detroit area; Avrum “Avery” Harris has taught Tanach for over 15 years in a California chavurah; Zevi Miller, a professor at Miami University in Ohio, has been engaged with campus Hillel ever since he met his wife at the University of Michigan Hillel; Ron Sussman of Ann Arbor, who was the “maintenance guy” at Kfar Ivri in 1965 and 1966, has been engaged with Habonim Dror for more than 35 years. Still others made their careers with Jewish-sponsored institutions. Three made aliyah.

Rabbi Magidson said after the event that she felt the Zoom format was the best for this time and this group. Given the great geographic dispersal of the grown-up Kfarniks and our many family commitments, the likelihood of having a successful in-person reunion would have been dismal.

A Second Chance?

For those unable to attend, they still will be able, thanks to 21st-century technology, to view a recording of the entire Zoom reunion on a password-protected YouTube site. Avery Harris called for a follow-up in the near future so that those who missed the event can have a second chance to share some time in person.

Will it happen? Will there be some movement toward having a weekend at Tamarack with our families in attendance as well? While the JN Archives have no mention of Kfar Ivri after 1988, for the campers at this reunion, the last words sung were the last words of the Kfar Ivri song: “We shall return to your gates.”

Doris Rubenstein retired from fundraising and now is a freelance writer
in Richfield, Minn.