Rabbi Shea Hecht tells of the immense efforts to make sure Camp Emunah would be open this summer, despite all odds. “So summer will be a little less relaxing for us-what can we do? We have a lot to accomplish in very little time…”
New York State’s mandated closure of summer camps just days before the summer season was a tough pill for camps and kids alike.
“Honestly, I thought we’d definitely get the governor’s approval to open camps,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht, Chairman of the NCFJE. NCFJE is the parent organization of Camp Emunah, the oldest Jewish girls camp in the US. “We worked together with a number of camps and medical professionals to put together safety procedures and actually surpass the state’s expectations. We had a very solid plan for reopening, and the presentation to the governor’s staff was a slam dunk. I’m disappointed that Governor Cuomo disagreed.”
The mandated closures, which the state finds necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, have left many camps with the difficult question of how–or even if–they would serve their campers this summer.
“For Rebbetzin Hecht, there was no question whatsoever that Emunah was opening,” said Rabbi Hecht of his mother, Rebbetzin Chave Hecht, founder and over 60-years director of Camp Emunah. “Not only was Emunah opening, Emunah was open for the whole summer, with no compromise in the quality of the program, no increase in tuitions and no decrease in scholarships.”
The commitment to keep Camp Emunah open created a race to find appropriate out-of-state grounds. Rabbi Hecht and the organization’s leadership spent the next week crisscrossing the Northeast to sites as far away as Vermont and Pennsylvania, urgently looking for a temporary home for Camp Emunah.
“It was surprisingly exhausting. Many of the places we looked at were “technically” campgrounds but had clearly not been used or maintained in years. Others were simply too remote to be realistic options.”
Emunah’s administration finally decided on Camp Tiago, a modern, well-kept campground located in Pennsylvania’s Poconos. While the site was superior to any of the other options, relocating Camp Emunah now presented a new problem.
“Renting Tiago costs $60,000 per week,” said Rabbi Hecht. “We’re talking nearly a half-million dollars in expenses the organization was totally unprepared for. As my mother said, we’re not raising fees, or walking back scholarships we’ve committed to, so we’re really going to take this on the chin.”
Rabbi Hecht, and the leadership of Camp Emunah and NCFJE have started rallying their directors, board members and donor base to raise the money for these new expenses. Regarding having to launch an unforeseen, sizable fundraising campaign, Rabbi Hecht said: “So summer will be a little less relaxing for us–what can we do? We have a lot to accomplish in very little time…”