Did you go to sleep-away camp? Remember the fireflies, hearing “Taps” at 10:00 PM and “Reveille” in the morning? Arts & Crafts projects with paint and clay… paddling on the lake on a somnolent summer afternoon… singing in the dining hall with friends, old and new…
That remembered place still exists, beckoning across generations. The magic survives. There’s a camp for grownups with the charms of time gone by. If offers a bunch of new thrills: sunset dance concerts at Jacob’s Pillow, classical music at Tanglewood, lectures by well-known experts on a wide variety of subjects, Yoga, T’ai Chi. The list of delights is long.
The history of this place is long too. Founded 60 years ago to provide summer getaways for former garment workers from the Lower East Side, Camp Isabella Freedman (Ms. Freedman bought the 400 acres on which Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center currently sits) has been a summer magnet since the 50s – back when you and I first went to sleep-over camp.
There’s something else special about Camp Isabella Freedman: it’s full of Jewish flavors, from Glatt kosher meals to lectures about Jewish fiddlers and Tin Pan Alley music mavens to memorable Shabbat services. The synagogue is literally at the heart of camp, and the retreat center that houses camp is world-renowned for the wisdom it attracts and propagates on a wide range of subjects, from new ritual practices to saving the planet one pickle at a time.
Who wouldn’t want to spend a few weeks in a place that brings back the magic of summer camp – fireflies included?! At Camp Isabella Freedman, every moment is steeped in meaning. As you paddle a canoe there may be the lilting sound of chants from a lakeside yurt. As you practice the Eight Treasures of Chi Qung, morning mist rises from the lake. Nearby, a group of fellow campers silently paints the sunrise, part of a daily activity that explores the sacred in nature. Soon it’s time for a breakfast that would satisfy any appetite, from the most committed vegan to the heartiest meat-lover.
The days are full, but not hectic. Miki Raver, the director of camp, has managed senior learning and life enhancement programs on both coasts. No one does it better, and Miki is crazy about summer camp. She fills the days with enchanting art classes, lectures, performances, and chances for raucous celebration or quiet self-exploration. There’s always something enlightening, amusing or profound to explore. One thing she can promise: you’ll never be bored at Camp Isabella Freedman!
It’s rustic but all the rooms have air conditioners and screened windows. Many have porches and lovely spots to linger as you feel the day cool after learning and larking all afternoon.
Besides physical activities, lectures, films, sing-alongs, evening performances and trips-out, we have parties at Camp Isabella Freedman. Sometimes a bissel schnapps. Sometimes an old-school sock hop. We have parties that attract everyone on campus, and there’s nothing like a dance gathering that features four generations of dancers to make you smile!
One of the glories of the retreat center is its ongoing mix of generations. There are twentysomethings who work the farm as part of Adamah’s sustainable agriculture training program. They’re at meals, and they’ll dance with us a couple of times during camp. There are some young-olds, folks in their fifties and sixties. And there are some old-olds, kids in their nineties who can still tell a memorable story, play an instrument or just love to laugh. Isabella Freedman is more than a camp. But the legacy program of what has become a national and international retreat center for Jewish scholarship and spiritual practice is the camp. It’s the heart of the institution, symbolically and actually. We invite you to come enter the heart of this special place. Bring your memories of summer days in the countryside, and get ready for some new experiences: new friendships, cultural awakenings, and what are rightly described as “transformative experiences.” You won’t be the same, and you’re likely to feel a little better, like a woman who regained her balance in Tai Chi, a man who discovered a love of arts and crafts and the woman in her 90s who held a Torah for the first time, after spending time at Camp Isabella Freedman.