The 1990s

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Camp Yavneh in the 1990s.

During the 90’s, Yavneh grew in every way possible. In 1991, Debbie Sussman (Kerem ’68) became director, and breaking all records for longevity has remained in this role through the present. Under Debbie’s leadership, Yavneh has thrived and the facility has received an “extreme makeover”.

The physical changes to camp started slowly, as we all boasted about the new “screen doors on the Ben Zvi” in ’91. In ’92, a new shower house was constructed for the girls (this one, for some reason, even closer to the Boys area!). By ’95 many bunks were expanded to accommodate the growing camper population, and the Kerem girls that summer were the first Yavneh campers to have showers in their bunks (which was exciting until they discovered that they were responsible for squeegying the floors during nikayon!). In the later 90’s as enrollment continued to increase, major improvements noticeably enhanced the camp, including the creation of a brand new Amanut center (with room to do much more than just gimp!), the addition of a bigger (and easier to secure) canteen (now know as “Kolbo”, and while you can still order your staples like Twizzlers and Rolos, you can now enjoy slush puppies as well!) renovations to the Beit Am, facelifts for the succot, the construction of a new office (turning the old office, which was once the new office – into what is now known as Beit Rachel) and many other upgrades that improved the physical condition of camp.


The most notable improvement to camp in the 90’s was the transformation of the Chadar Ochel, both in space and in food! While the renovations were subtle at first with the painting of the old splintering floors to a color that we affectionately called “Sutterbut,” the Chadar Ochel walls were eventually expanded, making space for additional tables (and even some space to walk in between them, which also improved our standing with the fire department), as well as a salad bar, a bagel bar, a pasta bar and most importantly, the creation of YFS (Yavneh Food Services) a.k.a. John’s Gourmet Food.

From the beginning of the decade to the end, the camper population grew from 170 to 300. Kerem ’91 had 20 CITs, and by 1999 the average Kerem had 40. While the numbers grew and the skyline improved, the core, the nefesh of Yavneh always remained the same. Throughout the 90’s, new generations of Yavneh campers and staff, many of whom were 2nd and 3rd generation from their families, carried on “Masored Yavneh” while also creating new traditions with boundless ruach.

Zimriah has been a favorite Yavneh tradition since 1962, however, during the 90’s the Zimriah Bar was raised with the addition of hand motions, “shtick”, professionally made Aydot t-shirts, an annual Kerem procession, and event eh crowning of Melech and Malkat Zimriah (a coveted award created in 1995). Starting in 1990, KTV became the most anticipated peulat erev of the summer, with a close second being the Annual Safam & Sons Concert – which started in 1991 and has been playing to a sold-out Ben Tzvi every summer since!

Another tradition started (or revived) in 1991 was the Kerem Play. Throughout the 90’s, campers and staff have enjoyed such Kerem productions as: I Never Saw Another Butterfly (K’91), Who Shot Mr. Scott? (K’92), The Dybbuk (K’93), Radio Days (K’94), Peter Pan (K’95), Jerusalem 90210 (K’96), Fiddler on The Roof (K’97), Bye Bye Birdie (K’98), and Damn Yankees (K’99).

The 90’s also brought about the tradition of having a theme for the banquet on the last night of camp. Under the creative leadership of Estelle Gomolka (who has been at Yavneh in one devoted capacity or another for nearly 30 years!) the Chadar Ochel was transformed for one night each summer into a Hawaiian Luau, a Three-Ring Circus, The Olympics, Hollywood, or the Hard Rock Cafe. While the tradition of counselors meltzing the banquet continued, now they had to dress accordingly to them and perform an original song!

With a growing camp population, Yavneh was bound to gain some campers who were actually good athletes (as opposed to those who were only good when compared to other people at Yavneh). For the first time in almost two decades, Yavneh campers held their heads up high as our busses rolled into Tel Noar, Tevya and YJ on game days. Some of the 90's sporting highlights include: Mike Schiffer & Ari Sussman win the doubles title at the Tevya Tennis Tournament in '94; Jordy Solomon takes the juniors singles trophy at Tevya in '92; Aliza Hochmann wins singles tourney in '98; Runnin Rabbis '93 was victorious at the YJ All-Camp Basketball Tournament (which we learned about when we heard the entire team charge into the agam upon their late-night return to camp!); Girls softball team, the Running Rebbetzins beats YJ in '94 lead by Jen Mandel and Hilary Katz; the addition of new basketball backboards in '92 fundamentally alters Brian Amkraut's shabbos ball game; John Braidman tries to steal the sign off the YJ main office, gets caught, and ends up cutting the lawn at camp for a month.

There are many Yavneh moments, phrases and traditions that were unique to the 90's. These are the experiences that we still recall with great recognition or over email. These are the things that you remember if you were part of Yavneh in the 90's; When Hurricane Bob blew through the Northeast and Northwood during Maccabiah in '91 leaving Yavneh with no power for two days. Those who were at camp in '91 will never forget the indoor apache relay, and being trapped in the Chadar Ochel for nine hours with no power at all, with only yertzeit candles left over from Tish B'Av to light each table (during which time we actually went through with the chidon, using flashlights to buzz in when you knew the answer!)...Breakout '93 was a captivating show, complete with a helicopter from which Barry Paster's glasses came flying...

One morning in '94, campers woke up to signs that encouraged them to bring 75 cents to Mifkad. When they arrived at Mifkad, everyone was shocked to see that someone had moved the coke machine from Beit David to the flagpole...No matter how hard you have tried to get them out of your memory, the following songs can pop into your head with no notice: "Julia Miriam Yehudit, a Yavneh bat mitzvah!", "Abby Ruby, Abby Ruby-no last name, no last name," "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby diamond, emerald!", "The new screen doors are on the Ben Zvi", not to mention Avi Zabloki's Greatest hits, "Moshiach," "Samcheinu" and "It's apple blossom time in Orange, New Jersey".

Throughout the 90's, Yavneh was blessed with dedicated teachers and staff who instilled in campers an understanding, an appreciation and a love for Klal Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and living life Jewishly. Throughout its entire history, Yavneh has always imparted in its campers a love for and devotion to the global Jewish community, and particularly, Israel. As the campers of the 90's made their way through the ranks from Gurim to Kerem, literally growing up at camp, they became the first to have the incredible opportunity to extend their Yavneh experiences from Northwood to Jerusalem with the inception of Na'aleh in 1995. Yavneh's Israel program allows post-Kerem campers and Prozdor students to continue to grow together as an "aydah" while experiencing Israel and Judaism together on a different level.

While Yavneh changed in many ways during this decade, and while many moments during those years were unique, the 90's was a Yavneh of which the founders would have been proud, a Yavneh true to the original mission of the camp. Though the building great in size and amenities, the walls of the Chadar Ochel still shook each Friday night with the same intense ruach and beautiful (albeit) loud song for the generations that came before. In the 90's, dedicated counselors and roshei aydah, who were once campers themselves, returned year after year to serve as "dugmaot" and older friends to the kids who looked up to them (and would eventually follow in their footsteps). Many campers of the 90's have gone on to become rabbis, teachers and leaders in the Jewish community. During a time when the world was often changing for the worse, Yavneh grew to embrace a new generation of positive Jewish role models. the song written by Joel Sussman for Yavneh's 50th anniversary in 1994 says it best: "On and on, dor l"dor, on and on...Yavneh!"