Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alumni coming to mark Hebrew camp's 60 years

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Now that all the kids have gone for the season, three generations of summer campers are reuniting this weekend at a unique summer camp turning 60.

"I'm going to be in a cabin with seven or eight guys," said 50-year-old Marshall Carroll, who first attended Camp Massad on Lake Winnipeg when he was 10. It's the only Hebrew-immersion residential summer camp in North America.

Winnipeg lawyer Danny Gunn, 45, wouldn't miss it. "I'll be staying at the camp in a bed for someone half my size and a third or less of my age," said Gunn. "I expect my back will be none too pleased with me."

The idea for the camp started with Winnipegger Soody Kleiman, who visited Israel after its independence in 1948. His roommate told him about a Camp Massad in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

"Soody thought, 'We can support this,' " Carroll said. "In the 1950s, there were 20,000 Jewish people in Winnipeg -- there was a thriving cultural organization." Camp Massad in Manitoba opened in 1953.

Since then, similar camps in the United States have folded while Camp Massad continued to offer immersion in Hebrew for 60 years. Campers have come from all over Canada, the U.S. and Israel.

"I think this can last," said Carroll, whose kids were campers and are now helping out at Camp Massad as adults.

"The excitement and enthusiasm are passed on through osmosis," he said. "The young ones are excited and then they start running the programs," Carroll said.

About 120 people are expected at the camp, located between Winnipeg Beach and Sandy Hook, for the reunion that kicks off Friday night.

"It sounds a bit corny, but it really is a big, extended family," Carroll said. The extended family includes Gemini-award-winning actor Jonas Chernick, Recipe to Riches creator Allan Novak, Loving Spoonfuls host David Gale and prominent Winnipeg lawyers such as Gunn and Evan Roitenberg.

"We're honouring the founders" like Kleiman, Carroll said. Organizers have put together a video with more than 10,000 slides collected over the years, as well as all kinds of Camp Massad memorabilia -- "hats and bags -- all the schwag," said Carroll.

They're also paying homage to a stalwart staffer at the camp who's in his 90s.

"Dick Cain has been the plumber since its inception." Cain's son has been helping him, but he's still a presence at Camp Massad, Carroll said.

There will be Israeli dancing, singing and praying and a play on Friday night. Saturday night, there will be another play.

There are sports and outdoor activities, but the play's always been the thing at Camp Massad.

"We have a theatrical bent to it," he said. "People like Jonas Chernick, they got their acting starts at Camp Massad." said Carroll, who went to camp for 12 years as a camper and counsellor and learned Hebrew.

"For lots of campers and counsellors, their only exposure is at our camp," he said. "One of the main focuses is to promote the language and realize its importance and relationship with Israel. It's part of our Jewish culture. Hebrew is part of our identity."

It helped with his bar mitzvah, when he volunteered at a kibbutz one summer and "when I want to speak to my wife and I don't want anyone to know what we're talking about," he joked.

For Gunn, Camp Massad was a major formative influence. "(It) gave me an unbelievable sense of belonging and a strong sense of community."



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2012 A6

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