On Sunday, August 22, approximately 200 Jewish boys arrived at Camp Lavi in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, with one thing in common: a love for hockey strong enough that they were about to commit to five days of playing just that. Camp Dovid, founded in 1999 by Rabbi David Beitler, is a five-day hockey “season” where boys are able to play on teams made up of fellow Jewish boys from the tri-state area. Known for his charisma, Rabbi Beitler founded the camp out of his love of the sport of hockey. Tragically, he passed away the Wednesday before camp began.
Steven Spector, co-owner of Camp Dovid and close friend of Rabbi Beitler said: “Even after Rabbi Beitler got sick, all he talked about was Camp Dovid, he was so passionate about it. Every day when I would visit him in the hospital he would ask me what was happening with Camp Dovid. He knew that this was part of his legacy: something he created that would allow the boys to come up for a week after the summer and build not only their hockey skills but more importantly, friendships with kids they had not known before. That has always been the main goal of Camp Dovid when it started 23 years ago, the relationships that the kids built with each other.
“As it became obvious that Rabbi Beitler would not be able to come to camp, I very much considered canceling the season, but he told me that under no circumstances could I do that. He told me that no matter what happened to him it was extremely important to him that the camp went on.”
The coaches and referees who loved him made sure that during the week his family sat shiva, the camp, his dream, would continue.
In the opening meeting, the campers packed into the playhouse to see their team assignments, collect their official NHL jerseys and hear from Coach Mo Fuchs, a Teaneck resident and coach of the TABC Storm hockey team. In his opening remarks Coach Mo told the boys how lucky they were that Rabbi Beitler created this utopia for them. “I never had an opportunity to play at Camp Dovid, and when I played yeshiva hockey there were all of six teams. Schools like TABC, DRS, North Shore—they didn’t exist. Appreciate the fact that you have something very special.”
On Sunday and Monday, the tropical rainstorm flooded some of the rinks, but under the leadership of Elliot Weiselberg, host of NSN’s “The Court Report,” schedules were shifted and the games went on. This year’s NHL teams for the Pee Wee, Junior and Senior Division were the Coyotes, Wild, Flames, Lightning, Nordiques, Golden Knights and the newest NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken. While not on the courts, campers were able to use the trampoline park, lake with slides and inflatable WIBIT, ninja warrior course, basketball courts and game room with XBOX and other games, but the most popular destination was the canteen, run by veteran Camp Dovid “Canteen Queen” Nechamie Goldberg and her Royal Knights: Tani Englander, Jakey Hoschander, Judah Leifer and Yoni Tocker.
Though Rabbi Beitler was always the center of fun, there were a few things he was serious about. The kids needed to wear yarmulkes, have derech eretz and attend minyan. Ami Avraham, Edison resident, RPRY coach and back-to-back-champion-Pee-Wee-Camp-Dovid coach, led the “optional” learning opportunities. If you came to all three, you were rewarded at the closing ceremony with an official NHL jersey. With tremendous nachas, there were not enough of those jerseys to go around, so the camp will be mailing jerseys to learners who didn’t receive their prizes at camp.
The boys played with all their heart and soul, but when the games were over, they went to cheer on others. Noticeable was when Junior Division high schoolers were present at the semi-final games of their younger Pee Wees. The sportsmanship and support the boys gave each other was evident to all in attendance. Retired RKYHS Cobra coach Paul Reiz said: “I’ve seen the benefits of sending the boys to hockey camp; as a coach it helps my team win championships! In less than a week you play a whole season, so the boys learn the rules and how to play the game. It takes a lot of pressure off because at camp, you learn how to win and lose with sportsmanship.”
At the awards ceremony this year, a new honor was announced. The brainchild of Mo Fuchs, Eric Gellman and Elliot Weiselberg and Alyssa Schechter, sister-in-law of the late Rabbi Beitler, this recognition was created to ensure the legacy of Camp Dovid’s founder. Weiselberg described to the crowd the meaning behind this accolade. He said Rabbi Beitler was “a friend, a mentor, a rabbi and one of the sweetest and kindest and funniest people that we know. … In a nod to what was a team that Rabbi Beitler coached over 20 years ago in a junior high league in New York, we created an award called ‘The Beitler All Star Award.’
“The recipients in each division exemplify hard work, dedication, respect, competency, ability and leadership on and off the court for each age group,” Weiselberg continued. “It is a person who is known, a person who is respected, and a person who we feel best carries on the principles that Rabbi Beitler coached and lived and wanted all of you to exemplify every single day.” The inaugural winners were Pee Wee Jack Linhart of Ramaz, Junior Division Aryeh Simon of TABC and Senior Division’s Sam Korman of Rambam.
The canteen team placed a tzedaka box at the payment counter, launching a scholarship for Camp Dovid in Rabbi Beitler’s memory, and even the young, hungry hockey players took the time to think about others and donated their change. Over $150 was raised. If you would like to contribute to the David Beitler Camp Dovid Scholarship Fund, please email [email protected]