July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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Sports Rocks at Camp Mesorah

For the past 29 years, Camp Mesorah has been providing inspiring, exciting and sports-filled summers for Jewish campers from all over the country and the world. Fifty fun-filled days of camp, under the guidance of an excellent staff, provide campers with memories to last a lifetime! The Jewish Link spoke with the camp director, Rabbi Ari Katz, to learn a bit more.

JL (Jewish Link): Can you tell us a little bit about Camp Mesorah and its mission?

RAK (Rabbi Ari Katz): Camp Mesorah is a place where children come from all across the country. Besides the various New York and New Jersey communities, we also have campers from Boca, Miami, Hollywood, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Atlanta, Arizona—plus Israel and Brazil. With campers from so many places, our number one goal is to mesh children from across the world together into one family, which creates a very wholesome environment. Along with the Mesorah Torah, ruach and, of course, our sports program.

JL: Can you elaborate on some of the sports you play, and what your sports program entails?

RAK: We believe sports is important because it is a common interest and focus of campers from so many different parts of the country and world—it’s the common thread that brings so many of them together. So often, over the first few days of camp, we see new friendships develop between campers who probably wouldn’t have spent time together, all because of their love of soccer, basketball or hockey—and then those friendships transcend the sports.

In addition, we have professionals involved in all sports. Our basketball programs’ directors have both played for Israeli professional and national teams. Hockey is the same way. The skill level and professional caliber of all our sports staff is incredible! It gives our campers who play on their school teams an opportunity to be better prepared for the next sports season. And besides the traditional team sports, we have so many athletic activities campers participate in: an intense mountain-biking program, which I believe we were the first camp to offer; an extensive zip-lining and ropes obstacle/challenge course; paintball field; and spin classes. And our creative arts program—including culinary, art, ceramics, drama—are all led by people who have many years of experience. We want our campers to have the chance to better themselves in their chosen sports and activities, not just from sports leagues and participation in the activities but also through the professional guidance of those leading the activities.

Another innovation at Camp Mesorah is our Workshop Program: Our campers have the opportunity to choose an activity in which they want to specialize, whether it’s a new skill they want to learn or one they want to improve and get better at. Our motto is “Create Your Summer Here”—and we want to empower our campers to create their best summer experience here at Mesorah.

JL: Wow that is quite an impressive sports program! Where does this all take place? Can you describe the campus of Camp Mesorah?

RAK: The entire camp has been totally rebuilt within the last five years. Every camper is living in a brand-new bunk. We built a new expansive dining room two years ago, complete with a spacious canteen on the lower level. Our sports pavilion houses two hockey courts and two basketballs courts and is covered by a bubble—so even on rainy days, sports can continue! The baseball and softball fields are new and we refurbished our tennis courts as well. It is basically an entirely brand new camp; the whole campus has been redone from beginning to end. People who were in Mesorah 15 years ago—many of them current parents—don’t even recognize the campus anymore. This has attracted many campers and new families to Mesorah—to come and enjoy the amenities and brand new campus.

JL: What sort of religious and Jewish activities and experiences does camp Mesorah provide for their campers?

RAK: We have a very active Kollel under the leadership of Rav Meir Goldwicht that integrates with all of our campers—its mere presence in the middle of our campus inspires so much of the Torah life in camp. We also have a Teen Kollel for campers who want more learning. They wake up an hour earlier, daven with the Kollel and have morning seder and shiur and then they continue with their regularly scheduled day. Our Teen Midreshet Mesorah on our girls campus gives our teen girls an opportunity for more learning and to build relationships with our chinuch staff.

We host Thursday night tisches and Friday night onegs, which are attended by so many of our campers and lower staff—a chance for us to incorporate Torah and ruach into the daily lives of our campers. We are very proud that so many of our campers embrace the idea that it’s important, and “cool,” to have learning and ruach as a central part of their camp experience,

JL: Speaking of the religious aspect of camp, what sort of programing does Camp Mesorah do during the Nine Days and Tisha B’Av?

RAK: During the Nine Days we have more chinuch and more of our programming is chinuch-related. During that week, our campers work on their “Shield Day” presentations: A theme is chosen and each bunk creates a shield/banner representing that theme. On Tisha B’Av, they stage a play to present their shield to the other campers.

The night of Tisha B’Av, we have an incredibly moving evening. On each campus, torches are lit and illuminate the way as the campers and staff walk up to our Dome, where the entire camp gathers for the reading of Eicha. After that, we all gather outside where a sign with the word “Zachor” is lit in flames for an emotional kumzitz. Throughout the day of Tisha B’Av, we have different programs for the campers: Tzitzit making, havdalah candle making, plus an opportunity for them to meet with our chinuch staff and other staff to discuss what Tisha B’Av means today.

JL: Tisha B’av sounds like a very special day at Mesorah. What is a typical day at Camp Mesorah like?

RAK: Of course we start with tefilah, breakfast and chinuch. Right after that, all our campers start a full day of activities: sports leagues, art, spin and aerobics, outback, culinary, boating, mountain biking, volleyball, ropes course—these are just a few of the activities on our campers’ daily schedules. And each day is capped off by an amazing night activity!

We also have a full-blown calendar of special events: full-day trips to Dorney Park, water carnivals, FIFA tournaments, the Great Mesorah Challah Bake, bubble soccer, Mesorah Football League and so much more. Plus, this year we’ve had concerts with Lipa Schmeltzer and Mordechai Shapiro! Every day there is an incredible program that our campers look forward to!

Another special part of Mesorah that impacts our every day is our Yachad Program; we have campers integrated into our bunks, plus Yachad members working in various capacities in camp, interacting with our campers. We also host an annual 5K run in support of Mesorah Yachad—and because the Yachad program is so much a part of Mesorah, our campers are very excited about it and it has become a highlight of the summer!

JL: Visiting Day was not too long ago. Can you describe Visiting Day at Camp Mesorah?

RAK: Parents come from across the country, from Florida, California, Israel, Toronto and of course New York and New Jersey. It is an exciting day where our campers get to show off their “home away from home” to their parents. Our parents, many who were once Mesorah campers themselves, get to experience many of the activities their children experience every day.

Our parents also get a chance to meet our staff that day—we are very proud to say that we have many adult educators, who are parents themselves, in key staff positions so that they can really guide our campers. And on Visiting Day, our parents have the opportunity to speak with the head counselors, division heads and camp mothers to see how their children are growing from their time in camp and how to best make sure they have an amazing time for the rest of their summer.

JL: Tell me a little bit more about the staff.

RAK: The staff members also come from all over the country and from Israel. When they work with the campers they really give them one-on-one attention. They are incredibly nurturing and caring, ensuring the campers are thriving in camp.

I myself am very involved. Parents all have my cell phone number, so they know they can call me with any concern. My wife, Deena, oversees both boys and girls campuses—this gives our head counselors, division heads and camp moms another resource to make sure our campers have the best summer. There is constant communication with the parents, which makes them feel very comfortable sending their children to Mesorah, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s grown so much throughout the years.

JL: Wow! Sounds like Mesorah is a great camp where campers have a wonderful summer experience! Thank you for talking with us.

By Sara Schapiro

�Sara Schapiro is a rising sophomore at Stern College for Women and a resident of Bergenfield.

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