Camp Tel Shalom

In 1974, on the beautiful grounds of Herman Rubenstein’s Buffalo Gap Camp in Capon Bridge, West Virginia, Adas Israel Congregation launched a summer camp for Jewish children of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Whether you were a camper or a counselor (or even a parent), you probably realized – either at the time or a few years later – that something special was occurring at Camp Tel Shalom in the mid-1970s.

Over the next several summers, Camp Tel Shalom became a close-knit community that many returned to year after year. For some it was also a launching pad, a proving ground or coming-of-age incubator that spurred their growth to new places and phases. For others it was simply a fun place that bolstered their confidence, offering a chance to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

We’ve started this website to re-connect with old friends and share some memories… Remember the way 100-plus voices rocked the chader ochel with rousing renditions of Im Tirtzu or Bashanah Haba'ah? Whatever happened to the girl sitting next to you who always softly sang harmony to Dodi Li? Was Camp Tel Shalom the site of your first romantic kiss or your first real girlfriend/boyfriend? Do you remember learning to swim or navigate a kayak in the slimy-bottomed lake? Maybe you recall a particularly well-executed midnight raid on the girls' cabin or vice versa? Were you amazed when, after only a week, you chanted the birkat hamazon after meals as well as the kids from Jewish Day School? Do you remember your favorite counselors and friends? Did you cry on the last day as everyone boarded the buses for the trip home?

B'shalom and welcome back,

Allen Goldberg '74, '75, '76
Barry Eisenberg '74, '75, '76 ‘77

Monday, January 26, 2009

Summer Camp Memories

Thanks to a Rockville man’s persistence, summer campers reunite 30 years later

By Kathleen Wheaton

One of Allen Goldberg’s enduring memories is of movie night at Camp Tel Shalom, a Jewish summer camp that operated near Capon Bridge, W. Va., from 1974 to 1979. “There was this girl I had a total crush on—every guy at camp had a crush on her,” says Goldberg, 46, who grew up in Bethesda and Potomac. “I remember sitting next to her when we were watching The Wizard of Oz, and I put my arm around her. It was the first time I had any contact with a girl. As I mark milestones in my life, that was a starting point.”

But when Goldberg encountered his former crush 30 years later at a meeting to plan a Camp Tel Shalom reunion, he learned a brutal truth: “She has no memory of it,” Goldberg says, shaking his head with amazement. “While for me, that was lasered into my brain.”

What happens three decades later when you see across a crowded room the first girl you ever put your arm around or the first boy you ever kissed? Some alumni of Camp Tel Shalom found out when they attended a camp reunion in September at Adas Israel Congregation in Northwest Washington, D.C. “You wonder whether he’ll even remember, but he did,” Laura Apelbaum, 49, of Chevy Chase says about a long-ago summer boyfriend. Apelbaum went to Tel Shalom as a 15-year-old in 1974. “He came right over and introduced me to his wife.”

Navigating the sometimes choppy waters of romance was only part of the experience shared by the preteens and teens who spent four weeks in rustic wood cabins at a lush green campsite known as Buffalo Gap. The communal experience of Jewish faith and practice also instilled a sense of pride in many Bethesda-area campers. “By the end of camp,” says reunion organizer Barry Eisenberg, 45, of Rockville, “you went back to school and the more diverse, secular world still equipped with at least some of that gained confidence.”

Exasperated by his Hebrew school students’ reluctance to spend their vacation days in a classroom, Adas Israel Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz came up with the idea of leading them into the wilderness. “I made a deal with the kids,” says Rabinowitz, now 92. “If they would go to camp, we’d cancel Sunday school at Adas Israel. We had the whole curriculum out there, and they learned just as much.”

After only a week at camp, Eisenberg says, “you were amazed when you could chant the birkat hamazon [the Hebrew grace after meals]—and enjoy it. Camp was the sugar that made the medicine go down for a kid like me.” But camp was also a place where “you walked a little taller and with more of a strut to your step. You were more assured and flirtatious with the opposite sex than at school.”

“At camp,” Goldberg says, “I had a whole robust social life that was better than my secular life, my life at Churchill [High School in Potomac]. It was almost like I had this secret identity. I was popular. I was the emcee of the talent show. I was a funny guy. I was able to break through because it was a smaller pond, and a pond filled with like fish.”

A couple of years ago, for no reason he could discern except that he was entering hismid-40s, Eisenberg began to feel nostalgic about the summers he spent at Tel Shalom from 1974 to 1977.Although many of his fellow campers were from Montgomery County, Eisenberg, who grew up in Silver Spring and attended Bethesda- Chevy Chase High School, lost touch with Them over the years. What had become of the girls he’d fallen in love with? What about the college-age counselors whose maturity and sophistication he’d admired?

Eisenberg searched Google for Camp Tel Shalom and got only one result: a 2004 blog entry entitled “Dear Henry,” which was one of a series of letters written by Goldberg, a former fellow camper, to his son Henry, who died of Fanconi’s anemia in 2002 at the age of 9. Reporting that Henry’s younger brother Jack had just returned from summer camp, Goldberg wrote, “When I was a kid I went to Adas Israel’s Camp Tel Shalom, but that isn’t around anymore.”

Reading Goldberg’s letters, Eisenberg became acutely aware of how much time had passed since camp. “People I still pictured as kids had married, had careers, raised families and, inevitably, suffered tragedies,” he says. With some trepidation, Eisenberg sent Goldberg an e-mail and, to his relief, the response was enthusiastic. The men arranged to meet at Eisenberg’s office at The Society of the Plastics Industry on K Street, where he is director of communications and marketing. Eisenberg recalled his fellow camper as a short, skinny redhead. When Goldberg, now a 6-footer, walked into the office, Eisenberg remarked: “You’ve gotten big.”

“I grew late in college,” Goldberg replied.

A marketing officer for FKF Applied Research, which performs brain scans to assess consumers’ unconscious reactions to products, Goldberg says he’s fascinated by the disparate memories people have of a shared event. He still isn’t sure he recalls Eisenberg from camp. “The name sounded familiar,” he says, “in the way any Jewish name sounds familiar.”

The two men hit it off and began discussing the idea of tracking down other Tel Shalom campers and organizing a reunion. But how would you find people you’d known before the arrival of the Internet? Eisenberg dug up envelopes full of some faded group photos he’d saved. Goldberg was amazed that Eisenberg was able to look at the photos and match the names on the envelopes to the faces.

“I don’t know how I do it,” Eisenberg says. “Even if people really weren’t my friends, I can remember their names. I suppose it was because of the communal thing at camp, hearing their names over and over. Because if you ask my wife, I’m not like that anymore.”

“I think Barry is wasting his skills in the plastics industry,” Goldberg says. “He could be a private detective tracking down lost people.”

Goldberg and Eisenberg set up a Camp Tel Shalom Web site, and gradually, with the assistance of Internet sites that help locate people, the list of former campers grew.“ For a while, Barry and I wondered if we were the only ones into this,” Goldberg says. “Then we started hearing from people. They were just floored.” Former campers posted their own photos, building a ’70s-era slide show of cutoff jeans, guitars and free-flowing hair. When alumni couldn’t be reached online, letters were sent to their parents, using the addresses from mimeographed camp rosters. What was surprising, Goldberg says, given the Washington area’s reputation for transience, was how many families were still living in their former childhood homes. He also realized that some of the parents he’d been running into daily as they picked up their kids from preschool at Adas Israel were former campers whom he hadn’t recognized in their adult incarnations.

“We realized we needed to do the reunion as quickly as possible, before everyone became unrecognizable,” Eisenberg says.

Out of 140 former campers contacted, Eisenberg says, only two responded negatively. He was taken aback by an email he received from his “first-ever” girlfriend, the curly-haired, blond daughter of a rabbi. “She says she was at my 11th birthday party the winter after camp, and I don’t even remember inviting any girls,” Eisenberg says. “She says I called her the next day and told her in a rather cold way that I didn’t want to see her anymore. I have no memory of this, but she needed to tell me, 30 years later.”

Nearly 70 former Tel Shalom campers signed up to attend the reunion. “Everyone had this one person they wanted to connect with the most—their first love or whatever,” Goldberg says. “For me, it was my friend John Miller. But there are a million John Millers, so you can’t just Google the guy.” Goldberg started a Facebook page and posted a picture of himself with Miller. A day or two later, Miller, who also had a Facebook page, saw the photo and got in touch. It turned out that he was a professional reunion planner living in Colorado. Although Miller was unable to attend the reunion, “we were able to use his planning know-how,” Goldberg says.

On the evening of Saturday, Sept. 6, with Tropical Storm Hanna moving up the East Coast, Goldberg and Eisenberg decorated the Gerwitz reception hall at Adas Israel with balloons, reproductions of group photos and copies of an old camp newsletter. Kosher hors d’oeuvres, drinks and a surprise birthday cake for Marshall Green, the former camp director, had been ordered. Then the campers and counselors began to arrive. They were men and women in their 40s and 50s, wearing cocktail dresses, high heels and jackets and ties. People hugged and exclaimed over how wonderful everyone looked. They laughed at the old pictures of themselves—the funny clothes, the untamed hair.

“It’s like no time has passed,” says Lisa MuchnickPote, 48,who attended Walt Whitman High School and flew in from Nashville, Tenn., where she works as a consultant to nonprofits.“ We’re all wider, grayer, but the same. I’ve run into an old romance. It was never serious, but memorable. Not a Friday night goes by when I don’t think about the Sabbaths we had at camp, the rousing singing in the dining hall.”

“I remember the guys who organized this as my kids,” says Susannah Sirkin, 53, who worked as a counselor during the summers when she was a student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. Sirkin, who grew up in Bethesda, India and Greece, traveled to the reunion from Boston; She works for Physicians for Human Rights based in Cambridge, Mass. “All week I’ve been saying, ‘I’m going to seemy kids,’ and these are men in their 40s.”

Rochelle Helzner, 55, of Rockville, who attended John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, was a counselor with a crystalline singing voice that many campers remembered from 1977 and 1978.Now she is the cantor at Rockville’s Tikvat Israel Congregation. Strumming her guitar, she led a spirited singing of the Havdalah service, the candlelit prayers marking the end of the Sabbath. The women linked arms and danced the hora.

The food went mostly untouched, although everyone gathered around the cake to sing “Happy Birthday” to Green, who was turning 64.Green, a Capitol Hill resident and an administrator of The Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, says he was “overwhelmed.” He shook his head over a photo of himself sporting a mane of thick brown hair and a luxuriant mustache. “I may not remember you now,” he says, “but I remember you when you were 8, 10, 12 years old.” He recalled many trips with injured campers to the nearest hospital in Winchester, Va. “It was over dirt roads, if you even could call them roads,” Green says. “And imagine, this was before cell phones.”

Nancy Boorstein of Potomac, 44, who graduated from Churchill High in 1982, showed off a scar on her knee from five stitches she’d gotten at Winchester Hospital. Somebody threw a watermelon at her when she was 8, she says.

“Camp Tel Shalom was an experiment that worked,” declared Rabbi Rabinowitz. He is now white-haired and walks with a cane, but his voice is still resonant and authoritative.

“My mother says he could move people to tears just by reading the phone book,” Laura Apelbaum says.

“I am glad to see so many of you here, fertile and married,” Rabinowitz concluded. “Actually, married first and fertile second—and that’s the proper order.”

Eisenberg then spoke, describing how he and Goldberg originally made contact through Goldberg’s letters to his son Henry. “I think it’s just wonderful that the catalyst for a camp reunion is a child,” Eisenberg says.

The evening wore on, but people lingered. It was far better than a high school reunion, several alumni remarked: warmer, friendlier, no cliques. Old friends posed for new group photos. Future and more frequent reunions were proposed, now that everybody is back in touch—maybe regular Sabbath potlucks?

Eisenberg’s curly-haired girlfriend of 30 years ago did not attend. Later, she wrote to Eisenberg that she would have liked to come, but that her husband was away and her children were to be in a dance performance that night. The air was cleared over the fallout of his long ago birthday party, Eisenberg says, and they have since exchanged several cordial e-mails. She wrote to congratulate him on the success of the reunion, and to suggest that the next be held at her parents’ home in Bethesda: “I can make sure to be there,” she wrote, “and my dad can have Rabbi Rabinowitz to schmooze with.”

Kathleen Wheaton is a freelance writer in Bethesda.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Barry Eisenberg
Reunion Remarks
September 6, 2008
Hakshevu, hakshevuna, Camp Tel Shalom! I want to welcome you all to the reunion, and thank you so much for braving the weather – particularly those of you who came long distances. I also want to thank you for your enthusiastic response to this reunion from the moment we launched the idea. It is a tribute to Marshall Green, Karen, the entire staff and even campers that together we all played a role in creating such a special place that even after 30-plus years still means so much to us.
My remarks are a mixture of my perspective as one of the organizers of this event, and just my personal thoughts as a camper for four years. Over the last year, and particularly over the last 2-3 months, Allen Goldberg and I have spent a lot of time talking to each other, to some of you, and even to interested people outside our camp community about what it all means, major themes and big questions. And a few days ago I realized that, without knowing it at the time, when I wrote the short intro to the camp reunion web site I had actually captured some of the major themes about the Camp Tel Shalom experience that are personally meaningful to me (and I hope to most of you as well). Paraphrasing a little bit, I wrote on the web site that Camp Tel Shalom was…
a launching pad, a proving ground or coming-of-age incubator that spurred growth to new places and phases. For others it was simply a fun place that bolstered their confidence, offering a chance to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Remember the way 100-plus voices rocked the chader ochel with rousing renditions of Im Tirtzu or Bashanah Haba'ah? Whatever happened to the girl sitting next to you who always softly sang harmony to Dodi Li? Was Camp Tel Shalom the site of your first romantic kiss or your first real girlfriend/boyfriend? Do you remember learning to swim or navigate a kayak in the slimy-bottomed lake? Were you amazed when you chanted the birkat hamazon as well as the kids from Jewish Day School?
For me, those lines reflect the strong sense of community that our camp built really rapidly. How friendships, romances and bonds are formed extraordinarily fast when you are living a highly concentrated daily life that is jam-packed with excitement, achievements, challenges, and so many rituals -- both religious and secular -- in a supportive and communal environment. Things happen faster and with greater impact in our “world away” than in the “real world.”
In particular, the lines about being a bigger fish in a smaller pond are personally meaningful. Camp was important to developing self-confidence, trying new things, being a little bolder than you were at school. Once you got on the bus at Adas Israel and departed for camp, your confidence was bolstered. At camp, you walked a little taller and with a strut to your step, you were more self-assured and flirtatious with the opposite sex than at school. And at the end of camp, you went back to school and the more diverse, secular world, still equipped with at least some of that gained confidence.

The sentences on the camp web site that mention singing Im Tirtzu and Bashhanah Haba'ah and being amazed when, after only a week, you could chant the birkat hamazon – and enjoy it – point to a crucial role Camp Tel Shalom played in giving some of us a greater sense of Jewish identity and pride. Particularly for those of us, like myself at ages 11-14, who were not so receptive to what seemed like stale lessons being delivered at Hebrew school and the institutionalized spirituality at my synagogue’s services. Camp was almost like sugar that made the medicine go down for a kid like me. In fact, at camp, it was no longer medicine at all. Certainly the beauty and spirit experienced at outdoor services in a rural setting, or the loud, highly energized singing of Hebrew songs in the camp dining hall, instilled a strong Jewish pride that I had not found elsewhere and I am grateful that camp gave me this taste.
As I looked forward to this reunion tonight, and wondered what it would be like to see you all after 30 years, another theme struck me. Over the months leading up to tonight I have communicated by email with so many former counselors who, in all probability, I had never said more than three words to as a kid. I began to enjoy the initially strange yet eventually nice leveling of the age gaps and social structure that seemed immense at camp but have disappeared today. For example, when I was 13-14 years old at camp, my counselors were my friends, but also caretakers and authority figures. Today I realize they were practically kids themselves -- many in college and most maybe only 4-6 years older than me. Similarly, the gap between the oldest campers of say 15 and the youngest at 8 or 9 seemed so huge at camp. I really didn’t pay attention to the Chalutzim when I was in Bogrim. Now one of those whippersnappers could be my boss! So, 30 years later, the reunion flattens all that out in a fun way as we have all become middle aged peers! At least I think so…But I did have this dream about a week ago…
DREAM: A beer at the reunion with Jeff Bernstein, but he brings out the paper plate job wheel, and I have to clean toilets, I look back to see Aryeh Davis saying: “Or else no canteen.”
I want to finish up by thanking a few groups of people in particular for keeping the Camp Tel Shalom spark going in me over 30 years – enough so that I would be crazy enough to be involved in planning this evening.
1. I want to thank Herman Rubenstein and his family. A few months ago my friend, Paul Finver, asked me, "Do you realize how beautiful Buffalo Gap was?” And it really was and we should all thank the Rubensteins for such a setting for our camp. But I also thank Herman for really getting me to the Camp Tel Shalom community at all. In 1972 he came to my family’s house in Silver Spring with his camp slide show and convinced my parents to send me to good old, secular Buffalo Gap Camp with my brother and my oldest friend, Peter Shapiro, who many of you know. I really liked that camp, went back in 1973, and was prepared to return again in 1974 when a letter came to my parents explaining that Buffalo Gap Camp would be closing, but encouraging me to give something called Camp Tel Shalom -- a new camp that would be using the same property -- a try. I’m so glad I did. So thanks, Herman.
2. I want to thank the 30-40 people – many who are in this room – who, like me, took their Camp Tel Shalom experience with them over to the Ramblewood location of the camp in 1981. I was a counselor there for four years, and despite the Camp Tel Shalom name, it was really a different camp, a totally different era. But those 30-40 people who went over to this new Camp Tel Shalom tried to bring over some tradition and institutional memory from the 1970s era of the camp, and that went a long way in making it a good experience for me. It kept the spark alive.
3. I want to thank everyone who sent us photos, rosters, ideas and suggestions that made this reunion so much better than our reunion committee could have managed on our own. Speaking of which, I particularly want to thank Penina Handlesman Maya, Andrea Schneider Rozner, Dale Madden Sorcher, Sharon Burka, and Jon Miller for all of their heavy lifting. And a huge thank you to Cantor Rochelle Helzner and Carmi Cohen Kobren for leading our Havdala service tonight and bringing the musical element to this reunion that was such a critical component of our camp. It would not be the same tonight without your contribution.
4. Lastly, I’d like to go back to the beginning…and thank my partner, Allen Goldberg, for his cool-headedness, creativity, drive to get things done and just for sharing the load. OK, and I guess also for putting up with me sometimes being a nudge and with all my muschagas. Particularly my near meltdown in mid-June which prompted a memorable email reply to me from Allen with the subject line of “Dude, dude, dude.” I hope, Allen, that you agree that all in all it was a lot of fun and very rewarding.
Allen and I really didn’t know each other that well at camp. But it’s really cool to be able to say that you’ve made a new camp friend 30 years later.
I want to thank Allen along with Henry – Allen and Laurie’s son who passed away in 2002, for really being the catalyst for this whole event. After Henry died, Allen and Laurie started the Hope for Henry Foundation, which works to improve the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. In 2006, I guess I was feeling nostalgic and I was surfing the net and decided to Google “Camp Tel Shalom” to hopefully find out what eventually happened to it or if anyone was blogging or chatting about it. There was only one single result that came back that had anything to do with our Camp Tel Shalom. It was a few sentences about the camp that Allen had written in 2004 on his “Dear Henry” blog in which he writes letters to his son. That was the only mention. I remembered Allen from camp, so I contacted him and, well, here we are today at a reunion.
I think it’s just wonderful that the catalyst for a camp reunion is a child. So, thanks to Henry Strongin Goldberg as well.
# # #

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gone too longThree decades later, former campers get together

With the summer coming to a close, some people find it hard not to reflect back on those muggy nights spent creating mischief in a wooden cabin at camp.

For some area campers, the memories have come back to life.

After 30 years of separation, former campers of Tel Shalom, a short-lived Conservative Jewish camp, got together Saturday night for their first camp reunion.

Started in 1974 by the Adas Israel Congregation in the District, Tel Shalom created a summer haven for Washington-area Conservative Jewish kids. Until the early 1980s, 100 children, ages 9-15, showed up each summer to Capon Bridge, W. Va. There, they rocked the chader ochel, dining hall, with powerful renditions of "Im Tirtzu" and "Bashanah Haba'ah," according to former camper and reunion organizer Allen Goldberg, and participated in some of the standard swimming and boating.

Finances doomed the camp, according to Goldberg, a D.C. resident.

But, memories lasted. "It is extremely exciting to be reuniting with this particular group of people. The memories are so strong, even after 30 years," said an e-mail from Barry Eisenberg, another former camper and reunion organizer, who grew up around Silver Spring and now lives in Rockville.

Dale Madden Sorcher, a former counselor from D.C. who now lives in Bethesda, said that several days before the reunion, which was held at Adas, she began to get a bit nervous. "[Anxiety set in] only when I had done the math and realized how long it had been."

After looking at old photos, some were taken aback by their fashion sense in those days.

"I can't believe I had hair like that," Jennifer Low of St. Louis, a former counselor from Potomac, said in an e-mail of her 1970s hairdo.

Tel Shalom wasn't just a place for kids to pass the summer. Campers say it was a confidence and identity builder.

Eisenberg reminisced how the camp strengthened his Jewish identity at a pivotal point in his life.

"Camp Tel Shalom was a place where you could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond than you were at your school," he said. "Your confidence was bolstered -- you walked a little taller and with more of a strut to your step."

Most important, he said, "you were more assured and flirtatious with the opposite sex."

Saturday's event, according to Sorcher, went off without a hitch.

"It didn't seem like there were very awkward moments," she said. "People really just wanted to talk."

All in all, Eisenberg said, the reunion -- which drew around 70 people -- was a place to see how everyone grew up.

"I just think it is fascinating to learn that the little girl who used to sit next to you singing harmony to 'Dodi Li' in a small soprano voice is now a trial attorney," he mused.

-- Adam Kredo

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

American Jewish Summer

Songs Of The Jewish Youth Camping Movement (Including, Debbie Friedman, Craig Taubman, Sam Glaser, And More!!)

© 2005 Jewish Music Group, LLC

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Do you want to have a reunion?

We Need Everyone"s Contact Info!

Please click here to leave us your email address and the contact info for any fellow campers or their parents.

Attach any digitized photos, letters home and other Camp Tel Shalom-related memorabilia to populate this site.

If you do not have access to a scanner, mail them to

Camp Tel Shalom
3839 Calvert Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007

and we will handle your memories with care and return them to you safely. We also hope you will share with us contact information for others who attended (or will at least forward a note to camp friends you are still in touch with). In the end, we will even see if there is enthusiasm for a reunion.