When it opened its doors in 1996, Camp Nesher could be compared to The Little Engine That Could. It wasn’t the first Modern Orthodox Jewish sleepaway camp, or the biggest, but it had a clear mission and motivation, and a lot of heart.
Fast forward to 2021 and the camp leadership, Founder and Director Jeff Braverman and Assistant Director Johnny Shlagbaum, are thrilled to present Camp Nesher’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, a livestream event taking place this Motzei Shabbat, November 20, 8-11 p.m.
The virtual event, produced by Kol Rom Studios, will take participants on a “fun, emotional, 25-summer journey down memory lane” and feature interviews with Camp Nesher icons, awesome archived videos, amazing music and choir favorites through the years, and an interactive game show. The night is an opportunity to connect with old friends and support the home away from home that has been the source of so many wonderful memories.
Braverman reflected on the beginnings of Camp Nesher’s journey: “I was 28 when we opened Nesher… I felt there was a need for a camp that emphasized the concept of bein adam l’chaveiro, treating each other with respect and kindness…and that was the philosophy on which this camp was predicated.”
Nesher has grown tremendously over the last 25 years, starting out with just 96 campers that first year and expanding to approximately 500 campers this past summer. The expanded campus and extensive program offerings have made the camp a top pick for campers looking for the total camp experience with an intimate, family atmosphere.
Nesher has definitely kept it in the family, with Braverman at the helm from the beginning, bringing an aspect of continuity that is unique to Nesher. Shlagbaum returned to the camp as assistant director six years ago, after attending the camp as a camper and counselor when he was younger.
“I think that is a very special and important piece. Johnny had a love and understanding of what Nesher was all about and came on back to help power us into our next 25 years,” Braverman shared. Shlagbaum and his wife, Alana—who are one of the 30 Camp Nesher couples on the books—bring their family up to camp for the summer, with Alana working as director of operations.
One of the many improvements at Nesher over the years has been Beit Nate, a domed athletic facility built in memory of one of the camp’s most memorable campers, and later counselor, Nathaniel Cohen. Nathaniel suffered from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy but dreamed of going to a mainstream camp that would feed his love for sports. Camp Nesher was only in its second summer at the time, but ever mindful of its mission, Braverman worked with Nathaniel’s mother, Shelley Cohen, to make his dream reality and Nathaniel became the first child with a disability to attend a mainstream Orthodox summer camp. “We were the last on her list but we were the first to say yes and it changed modern-day camping as we know it…We took him in and we ramped the campus for him in our second year of camp,” Braverman remembered. The following year, Yachad formally instituted a program at Camp Nesher, with similar programs to follow at other summer camps.
“We are very, very proud of being at the helm of that and it was indicative and consistent with our camp philosophy of bein adam l’chaveiro...truly opening up to all.” Braverman said.
Nesher campers marked the momentous anniversary this past summer, which felt extra joyous with everyone just so happy to be back in camp after missing summer 2020 (which would have been the camp’s actual 25th summer—thanks, COVID). Campers enjoyed special programming and activities, but the celebration was limited because of COVID restrictions. Famed Israeli deejay DJ Rafi energized the entire camp during a “fantastic day…in advance of an evening event where the whole camp sang and danced,” remarked Braverman. The video from that celebration will be debuted during the livestream event.
This Saturday night’s event is an opportunity to “take a pause before heading into our 26th summer, acknowledging [this milestone] and sending hakarat hatov to so many who have been a part of it.” But just as important, the camp hopes to raise much-needed funds, for both renovations to the campus and scholarships, which have always been a top priority. “We didn’t want price to be a reason that kids couldn’t have the Nesher experience,” emphasized Braverman.
In a sneak peek into Saturday night’s festivities, Braverman and Shlagbaum are bringing back some Camp Nesher fixtures, including a beloved camp rabbi for 18 summers, Rabbi Tully Besser, who had a profound influence on so many campers. Also in attendance will be Nathaniel Cohen’s parents, who credit Nesher for pioneering the incredible program that allowed their son to have the summer experience of a lifetime. Former Yachad director Jeff Lichtman, who helped implement the first camp inclusion program at Nesher, will highlight the process and how it became a model for others. Original girls head counselor Esther Katz and everyone’s favorite camp mother, Reva Borgen, are also set to join, along with other past and current staff members. There will be something for everyone at this fun, memorable event that will celebrate the Nesher family.
To join the event and donate, visit www.campnesher.org/nesher25. Live donations will be accepted throughout the evening, with participants getting a special shout-out and thank you. The event is free and open to all.
Looking ahead, Braverman shared, “Our hope is to be doing exactly what we have been doing, in an even more exciting way. Our first quarter-century has truly been something special. Please help sow the seeds to help make our next 25 years even better!”