Milestones for Camp Menorah

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A camper concentrates as he maneuvers on the high ropes course at Camp Menorah.
A camper concentrates as he maneuvers on the high ropes course at Camp Menorah.

Jewish Journal Staff

ESSEX — Camp Menorah remains a pristine waterfront treasure, home to hundreds of happy summer campers, tucked into a wooded area on Lake Chebacco. But, 10 years ago, the camp faced a threat.

This year marks two important anniversaries for the camp that serves boys and girls, ages three to 16, in 22 cities and towns. It was 10 years ago that the Jewish day camp was nearly sold, and a group of passionate parents, community members and donors saved it.

It also marks the 30th anniversary of the leadership of Judi Simmons, longtime camp director.

"In reflecting about the things that transpired in 10 years, it’s hard to believe. I always knew it was a great place, but a lot of families sort of jumped on board and there was a lot of passion about the camp," said Simmons.

At the turn of the 20th century, Camp Menorah was donated to Combined Jewish Philanthropies. It was initially a Jewish boy’s overnight camp. One of the famous alumni includes Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes. In the late 1950’s, it became the day camp of the Chelsea YMHA, and later the Revere JCC.

The JCC of Greater Boston took over camp administration mid-1980’s, and that’s when Simmons got involved with the camp.

In 2002, CJP, still the owner of the land, received what they described at the time as an "unsolicited offer," and signed a purchase and sale agreement. They announced the news in August and set off a frenzy in the community.

Immediately, committees of parents and interested community members formed and protested the sale. "It was amazing the way the community rallied. People picketed outside CJP," Simmons said.

Ultimately, the group formed the Eight Lights, LLC. An anonymous donor made a large donation, and fundraising filled in the gap to purchase the camp from CJP and void the original purchase and sale agreement.

Simmons explained that the group had three years to raise the funds to pay back the donor "who saved the camp." They were able to do so, with a mortgage, and the camp remains a Jewish day camp today.

In the ensuing years, some of that parent energy and passion has translated into grassroots energy for the camp.

"Everyone pitches in. We had a family night and someone brought two cases of paper towels. People feel like it is their camp, and there is a new energy there," Simmons said.

Members of longtime camp families, such as Rik Dexter, volunteer to build things such as a deck if needed. Teens from Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester just painted the bathrooms. At the annual Mitzvah Day, families spruce up camp for the opening, bringing their own supplies and flowers.

The camp also received a donation of boats and tables when the camp was used as a set for "Grown Ups" with Adam Sandler. "He put us on the map," Simmons said.

To keep pace with the times, Simmons has expanded the camp curriculum to include some specialty programs like fishing, kayaking and canoeing and drama. They added a high and low ropes course. The camp is available for rent on weekends in the summer and fall.

They are also planning a large alumni reunion. She encouraged alumni to contact the camp office and put their names on the list.

Looking back, Simmons thanks the many families that worked so hard to save the camp, and many that continue to be involved.

"There is something magic about Camp Menorah that has kept me here my whole adult life," Simmons said.

For more information about Camp Menorah, call 781-6318081 or visit campmenorah.com.

Last modified on Thursday, February 07, 2013 - 17:09

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Published in Youth

Gallery

A camper concentrates as he maneuvers on the high ropes course at Camp Menorah.

A camper concentrates as he maneuvers on the high ropes course at Camp Menorah.

Above, alumni and their children and grandchildren visit Camp Menorah.

Above, alumni and their children and grandchildren visit Camp Menorah.

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