This summer felt bookended for me by Camp Kinderland in a way I haven’t experienced since I was a teenager attending the camp. In early July, I attended a visiting day at Kinderland to see my teenage niece, who has been going to camp with her cousin for years, and is now a CIT (counselor in training). And in late August, that same niece arrived for our two week family vacation midway through our time on the Cape, fresh from seven weeks at camp. She was exhausted from busy days and not much sleep and mourning having had to say goodbye to her friends. I think she spent the first 24 to 48 hours post camp counting the days until she’d be back with them at Kinderland for another summer!
It was a serious trip down memory lane for me; it was decades ago but I vividly remember the days when camp was that central to my life. Camp Kinderland is a progressive/radical Jewish secular camp; when I was a camper we learned Yiddish, not Hebrew, and observed Hiroshima and Nagasaki day along with Holocaust Remembrance Day; their motto is “the summer camp with a conscience since 1923.” As a camper, I lived in Harriet Tubman and Ernestine Rose bunks, attended performances at the Paul Robeson theater and visited friends in Joe Hill; Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney; and Anne Frank bunks, to name a few.
My sister, cousins and I all attended Kinderland for at least a few years (and in some cases, many more) and it was a central part of my childhood. My dad and uncle both attended similar summer camps (although not Kinderland) for years after their parents were killed and my dad felt very strongly about making similar experiences available to his kids. Growing up in a community where family friends knew my family history but many of my teachers and friends at school didn’t, Kinderland often felt like an oasis where everyone knew my background and there was subtle, often unspoken, support and a strong feeling of community and solidarity.
Given that, it’s probably not surprising that in the early days of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, we made a lot of grants to send kids to progressive summer camps and it’s still a request that makes many Board members smile as they review applications. Today, members of our grantee community engage in an ever-broadening range of programs and activities that provide comfort and healing to kids who have dealt with the varied impacts of family targeting. No one program or type of activity works for everyone, but we do have a special place in our hearts for Kinderland and similar institutions.
In part, that’s because in addition to providing memorable summers to all four of Ethel and Julius Rosenbergs’ grandchildren (and now their great-grandchildren as well), camps like these are at their core institutions committed to social justice and to transmitting progressive values from one generation to the next. Since that commitment to “carry it forward and pass it on” is a central part of the RFC’s mission, it’s not surprising that our connection to Kinderland extends beyond my family’s personal connection to this camp. The RFC held previous Gatherings at Kinderland, sponsored their first “Art and Activism” festival and worked with members of their year-round youth engagement program on the Exonerate Ethel campaign.
Clearly, Camp Kinderland has been a trusted and much loved allied organization to both the Rosenberg/Meeropol family and the RFC over the years. We’re thrilled to celebrate their centennial anniversary this fall. We toast their 100 years of fabulous summers and wish them many, many more.
I went to Kinderland at its original location on Sylvan Lake in Duchess County, NY. I camped from 1956 to 1962 and was an assistant camp counselor in 1964. That was my last year because I couldn't afford to take 2 months during the summer anymore; that was a luxury of being a student. Before the Paul Robeson Theatre and named bunks, (ours were numbered), we had the Casino, positioned right next to the lake where indoor events like dramatic and musical programs were held. Where Edith Segal held forth with dance-o-thons and we all happily worked up a sweat doing Myiam; we'd cool down with the slow dance, "Johnny Angel" by Shelly Fabares (the only "rock and roll" song Edith would allow in the Casino.) Afterwards, we'd head down to Canteen run by Irving Rosenbaum (Judee's dad). It was adjacent to the Casino and sat right on the water; the night air was wonderful and Irving's Yellow Brick Road yellow lights kept most of the bugs at bay.
When Kinderland moved from Sylvan Lake in 1972, I was heartbroken. Although I hadn't been back since I left, I felt a deep and aching loss. I feared Kinderland would never be the same. Perhaps it can never be the same, but different doesn't spell doom. Over the years, as I occassionally hear things about Kinderland, I appears to be richer, more diverse, and more robust than ever. The fact that they are celebrating 100 this year, I think, speaks for itself. Thank you generations past, present, and future. What a gift you are to humanity.
...and, wondering about the old photo (from 1923?) with what appears to be lettering across the entrance to the camp grounds... I can´t decipher what the characters might represent. Please give some insight.
Hi, Rachel from the RFC here. Thanks for your message. This is the photo from Camp Kinderland's centennial event RSVP page. I would suggest reaching out to them for an answer to your question.
I had never heard of Camp Kinderland. But your blog vividly describes its contribution to the sane upbringing of many, many children who had exposure to the recognition of heroes throughout history, such as Joe Hill, Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, Anne Frank and, of course, your grandparents. The camp’s centennial anniversary is very worth celebrating.
its great work that you are doing. I talked to either you or your sister in June I think-about the community ineapolis in the 50's. I'm wondering if you or anyone that might be connected with RFC knows anything about it.-if there are any remnants.