New-style Camps Take Children from Blistering City Streets
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New-style Camps Take Children from Blistering City Streets

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The sidewalks of New York are being returned to the adults who paid the taxes that helped to build them. And the streets are being left severely to the petrol wagons, the busses, the trolleys and the few horses that are still plodding along through monoxide fumes and humidity.

It’s the child who is doing the returning.

Your child and your child; also yours and your neighbor’s. The same who only yesterday, it seems, were dancing in the streets to the sour strains of a hurdy-gurdy, tragically getting under the wheels of a truck, or colliding ungently with the hurrying adult pedestrian to the discomfiture of both.

The long campaign of social welfare agencies, police department and any numbers of recreation commissions, park officials and even parents to keep the children off the streets in their play-time is finally bearing fruit. For the children have at last been given something that approximates a real inducement to stay off of New York’s sidewalks and streets with their terrible fascination for the child mind.


The inducement is not the playground. Playgrounds have been only partially successful. Their element of failure lay, for one thing, in the fact that there were altogether too few of them and, for another. the few there were failed to offer children sufficient variety of entertainment. Moreover, there was a complete lack of individual treatment of the child, for reasons that are quite understandable.

No, the inducement that is finally dragging children out of danger to life and limb is not the playground. It’s the camp. Not the camp tucked away in the hills, on the shores of a beautiful lake, or on the banks of a rushing river. That sort of camp is only for the children of the well-to-do, not for those children of the depression who seem to be in the vast majority.

The camp we are about to speak of is the home camp, a comparatively recent development. It’s the camp of the rooftops, of New York. The camp of the public parks, the museums. The camp that is tucked away on the banks of an indoor swimming pool.

That’s the inducement that is being hailed by child associations, welfare agencies and recreation experts as the most successful yet devised to keep children from breaking their necks while playing during the difficult summer months.

In this development, one of the outstanding groups, if not the leading group, responsible for its successful promotion, is the Jewish Welfare Board. About four years ago, the home camp idea was just an idea and nothing more. Here and there, social welfare and recreation people were playing around with it. In Mount Vernon, for example, the Y.M.H.A. and Y.W.H.A. had experienced a measure of success with the home camp plan for children whose parents were unable to send them to the regular “Y” camps.


Four years ago, the Jewish Welfare Board saw the possibilities behind the idea and began to promote it for all it was worth. Today it has been taken up enthusiastically by YMCA’s and other social agencies throughout the country. And today, the Jewish Welfare Board estimate, there are more than 10,000 Jewish children alone who have been caught up and fascinated by the home camps conducted by J. W. B. supervised agencies throughout the country.

As an official of the Jewish Welfare Board explains it, the home camps “were originally initiated as a depression measure to provide vacation opportunities for needy children who had to remain in the city during the hot summer months. An aimless existence on the street was transformed into a balanced recreational, social and educational program under expert guidance.”

That explains it in the formal language of the social worker, and the recreation expert. But it doesn’t tell the story by half. As a matter of fact, the story doesn’t need to be told at all. The story needs to be seen to be appreciated.


Take a day off, sometime, and visit Camp Ta-a-Noog. You’ll find Camp Ta-A-Noog, which is Hebrew for Joy, perched on the roof of the Institutional Synagogue at 37 West 116th street. Don’t look for tents. There aren’t any.

You’ll also find the camp down in the pool. In the arts and crafts room. In the classrooms studying Hebrew. Or in the large, cool auditorium, singing songs. And if it’s on Wednesday, the camp just won’t be anywhere around the building, inside or topside. To catch up with it, you’ll have to go up to Tibbett’s Brook in Yonkers; the Bronx Zoo; to the Yankee Stadium; to the Museum of Natural History. For on Wednesdays Camp-A-Noog, as well as all the other home camps throughout the city, strike their imaginary tents and go on the march.

The writer was fortunate enough to visit Ta-A-Noog on one of the camp’s days in.

He found one group of shiny-skinned youngsters clambering out of the pool. Laughter was in their eyes. Screams of sheer exuberance poured out of their slender throats as they piled into the locker room and slid into their togs. This was fun. Fresh, clean, invigorating, wholesome fun. And while the boys were climbing into their clothes, the observer scurried upstairs to the arts and crafts room where fun was being combined with a good smattering of education. Little groups of girls, under the guidance of individual counsellors — there’s one counsellor for every fifteen children or less—are turning bits of pewter into pretty, etched ornaments. Napkin rings, bracelets, book-ends. Some are pasting up magazine cutouts on those oblong pieces of cardboard with which the laundry sends shirts back to their owners. Others are busy with cakes of soap, from which they are carving handsome bits of sculpture.


In one corner of the large, light, airy room is a tangle of long, thin white reeds that seems to be taking on a special shape.

“That,” said Rabbi Philip Goodman, director of the camp who was escorting the visitor here and there on the camp grounds, “is the beginning of a succa. Two of the older girls, Bella Fried (12) and Claire Brody (14) are the chief builders.”

The floor and walls of the succa have been completed. The sacach (the grass roof) of the succa are in preparation by the girls. The younger members of the arts and crafts group are building tiny pieces of furniture out of crocks, pins and reeds. The floor of the succa will be covered with a raffia designed burlap rug. There will be pictures, table decorations, miniature wine bottles, a chalah and even the sanctification cups without which a succa isn’t a succa.

Working with a small group, the observer was slightly surprised to see two little Negro girls. In answer to the how-come look in his eyes, Rabbi Goodman explained that they are Jewish. The camp has four Jewish Negro children enrolled in its membership. They get along beautifully with the other children. Harlem, the rabbi explained, has a small colony of Jewish Negroes, several of whom are regular members of the synagogue. He believes them to be bona fide Jews. Some day, he said, he will take the time to trace their ancestry so that he can answer intelligently the queries that have been pouring in on him from all over the country concerning them ever since the news about them leaked out several months ago.

From the arts and crafts section, the reporter bounced up to the roof. It was a very ordinary looking roof. No penthouses around. No ambitious patches of landscaping. Nothing but chimneys, radio aerials, walls of neighboring buildings, more chimneys and dumbwaiter outlets and clotheslines.

But the roof had plenty of air. Also, plenty of sun. Which was all the campers needed for a good sun-bath. To them the neighboring walls were cool, green hillsides and the pebbled and tarred roof on which blankets are spread every morning for the sun-bath was a grass-covered glen.


At four o’clock there was to be a puppet show in the auditorium. The puppet show was being sent by the recreation department of the Department of Public Welfare’s Works Division. Two weeks ago the same puppet troupe had visited Camp Ta-A-Noog and had scored such a hit that a return engagement was immediately demanded. This second performance was greeted with even more enthusiasm than the first. After the show, the children made the auditorium ring with American folksongs and Hebrew songs. And thus ended a typical off-the-street day for about seventy Harlem youngsters.

Camp Ta-A-Noog is one of the newest of the home camps brought into existence with the aid of the Jewish Welfare Board and the City of New York. The part played by the city in establishing and helping to keep in operation this camp as well as others throughout the city is an important one. Many of the institutions that are operating camps of this type would be completely unable to support the personnel necessary to keep them going without the city’s aid.

Under the direction of L. C. Schroeder, director of the Works Division’s recreation department, seventy trained recreation leaders are assigned to the seventeen New York City home camps operated by Jewish agencies under the supervision of the Jewish Welfare Board. The Works Division also employs a liaison officer between its recreation department and the Jewish agencies, whose job it is to see that the efforts of the seventy city recreation leaders are properly coordinated with those in the employ of the agencies themselves.

While all of the camps charge a nominal fee to cover traveling expenses and partially take care of the lunches that are served daily to the children, a large proportion of the campers are admitted on scholarships. A particularly large portion of the campers in such sections as Brownsville and Harlem attend the home camps entirely without cost. At the Institutional Synagogue, for example, not more than half a dozen of the seventy children pay anything for the camping season. So, while the intention of the home camps is to be self-supporting, comparatively few of the seventeen in New York actually are able to be so.

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