Campfire Burns Out


Someone on Facebook called it a “tragedy.” Another said she has not stopped crying.
Camp Edward Isaacs in upstate Holmes is closing after 50 years.
“It’s been a struggle for the past decade to have sufficient enrollment to support the kind of programs we wanted to offer,” said Robert Friedman, executive director of the Central Queens YM&YWHA, which runs the camp.

“We had $400,000 in mostly government cutbacks this fiscal year, and looking at the economy we could not open camp next year knowing of this major deficit,” he added. “The camp itself has run at up to a $100,000-a-year deficit.”

Friedman said the Y had explored trying to partner with other organizations and had asked other Jewish community centers if they “had campers and perhaps money to invest.” Consideration was also given to using the 123-acre site as a day camp for local children in Dutchess County.

“There was a five-year process of looking at alternatives,” he said. “The heart of this Y is invested in this camp. We realize that Jewish camping is an expanding field and that the entire Jewish community is rallying to build more and better camps because of their role in building Jewish identity.”

But after determining that the camp would require more than a $3 million investment to open next summer with the necessary facilities and programs, and unsure of how many campers would sign up in the midst of a recession, Friedman said the Y board decided to close Camp Edward Isaacs.
It is not yet clear whether the Y will sell the facility or hold onto it.

In an e-mail Dec. 2 that was posted on Facebook, Friedman announced the camp’s closing and stressed that the Y’s board had “agonized” over the decision. He said a reunion is being planned for all campers, staff and alumni and stressed that all of them would “still be bound together by our memories and friendship.”

John Scheiber, 17, of Flushing, said he had been on the staff last summer after spending three years as a camper.

“Everybody enjoyed it,” he said. “We knew the camp was losing money, but we never foresaw it closing. On Facebook pretty much everybody is shocked and depressed. It’s just horrible. … Everybody is freaking out about it. Everybody comes together as one when a tragedy like this happens.”

The camp’s director, Denise Ben-Haim, said the camp had become a “strong part” of many campers’ lives and a “big part of their Jewish identity. … It was a Jewish haven for a lot of people for a lot of years. It attracted a lot of unaffiliated children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. There were children whose lives were enriched by this experience.”

Josh Springer of Brooklyn, who had been a camper for five years and a staff member for eight, said he had hoped the camp would continue to operate but that “the way the economy is going….”
“This recession is really affecting the children,” said Springer, an assistant to the executive director of the YMCA in Long Island City. “Families are feeling it, but kids are losing out on some many programs and are getting hit the worst out of all of this.”

Springer noted that the thing that kept him returning to Camp Edwards Isaacs year after year “was the people.”

One former camper wrote on Facebook that the camp “became part of your soul. … From Maccabiah to the simplicity of wearing a white shirt on Shabbos, no matter the tradition it served the purpose of linking us together.”