In the beginning...
Yavneh in the 1940s.
The 40’s were tumultuous years. Our country was at war, our boys were in the Service, and we at home were depressed. It was during this period of time that the idea of Yavneh was conceived in the minds of Dean Louis Hurwich and Mrs. Leah Hurwich of blessed memory. Louis Hurwich was obsessed by two great problems which eventually found their solutions in the creation of Camp Yavneh. First, he wanted to extend the usage of Hebrew language beyond the walls of the then Hebrew Teachers College; and second, he wanted to instill the love and observance of Judaism in those students who lacked this for or another reason. In addition, he hoped to create dedicated teachers who would perpetuate this ideal in our schools and colleges. It was Leah Hurwich, however, who sought to combine all of the above with regular camp activities, so that both the mind and body would benefit from a summer program.
In the fall of 1943, Dean Hurwich pursued his dream and gained approval for a Summer School and Camp from the Board of Trustees of Hebrew Teachers College. He enlisted 37 founders, each of whom contributed $1000 towards the establishment of the camp. Among the founders were the initial benefactor and first corporation President Albert Goldman, Eli Cohen, who was already known for creative and innovative Jewish camping and lent much guidance to the project, and the New England Women’s Association, who were already generous contributors to the College.
Camp Hickory in Northwood, NH was purchased fir $18,000. The name, “Yavneh”, was taken from the great historic symbol of Jewish survival. And so, in the summer of 1944, Yavneh was born!
It was extremely difficult to secure qualified counselors during the war years, Not only did our staff have to excel in sports, swimming, arts and crafts, music, etc., but they all had to be proficient in Hebrew as well. Were could the Hurwiches go in their search? There were two options open- The Yitzhak Elhanan Yeshiva and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). And of course, there was also our own beloved Hebrew College. From these institutions, they selected the finest group of counselors for the first season of Camp Yavneh. They were mature, experienced and dedicated, and all spoke Hebrew fluently! These young men and women (from the Seminary) lent a hand to any task, no matter how menial. “We were all pioneers that summer doing whatever had to be done,” remembers Dena Micley, our very efficient and conscientious camp secretary.
In addition to our work, we all studied. I can still recall Rabbi Solomon Wind knocking on the window of Bunk Aleph (the bunk which housed the oldest campers and C.I.T’s) every morning at 6 a.m. He awakened Mollie Stein Glanz and me with the following “ Shtay ha’Malkot, b’vakasha la’koom!”
We took courses in the summer because Dean Hurwich had allowed those with excellent grades to skip a semester in the Prozdor, provided work was made up in camp. We studied in the Sukkah and under the shades of the pines and we really learned our material well. Rabbi Wind was an inspiring teacher, especially at 6 in the morning!
The ruach in camp, especially in the chadar ochel, was unbelievable. We sang and sang while waiting for the food to arrive. Mollie Stein Glanz recalls the following: “The songs we sang then were different from those of today’s repertoire, Our songs were those of the Chalutzim, of the rebuilding of the Land of Israel. There was no “Jerusalem of Gold” or the songs of the later wars.” The summer that Yakov Rosenberg was Music Director was wonderful. He was a student at JTS and had a beautiful tenor voice with which he led singing and Shabbat services.
Our favorite recreational activities were rowing, swimming and nature studies. The camaraderie among the staff, teachers and campers was incredible. Many of the counselors who were students at JTS went on to achieve prominence as rabbis, philosophers, teachers and authors. The caliber of personnel at Yavneh was always first rate; a tradition that, to Yavneh’s credit, has continued through to the present.
For example: Dr. Arnold Band and Rabbi Yitzhak Twersky, who were both recipients of the Alumni Annual Scholarship for a year of study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, were both counselors and teachers at Yavneh. In 1950, Dr. Band wrote in a letter from Israel: “…Again and again I heard about “a corner of Israel in America” whenever Camp Yavneh was mentioned. I toured our Land here, and I discovered that I was familiar with all of the songs and most of the dances. I had learned them all at Yavneh. Let him who does not believe it, come and be convinced.” (translated from Hebrew.)
Dr. “Dock” Weinstein, z”l, was our head swimming counselor. How the girls adored him as he stood on the dock wearing his famous white baseball cap. He made an unbelievable effort to speak Hebrew at all times during his instruction to our campers, and believe me, this was an arduous task.
Frances Levin was Hurwich’s right hand. Her organizational and secretarial skills behind the scenes back in Boston, before and after the camp season, were outstanding. We all loved her and looked forward to her visits to Yavneh.
After four seasons, the Hurwiches (due to illness) had to retire from camp, and Frieda Shore, z”l, took over the helm in 1948. Frieda ran a “tight ship.” She knew the whereabouts of her staff at all times (?). Camp continued to thrive, and we all loved and respected Frieda and Mordecai, of blessed memory, and the girls.
We will always treasure the wonderful summers spent at Yavneh- the lifelong friendships that we created, the love and appreciation for Judaism, Israel and the Hebrew language, and the many traditions that we helped to create back when it all began.