Feature Stories

Camp Laurelwood at 80 — Connecticut’s only Jewish overnight camp plans a party to celebrate its past – and ensure its future

By Stacey Dresner

The fun starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday August 26, will feature self-guided tours of, a ‘happy hour’ with an open bar – featuring “spiked” bug juice and hors d’oeuvres, a dinner catered by West Hartford’s The Crown Market, and dancing to tunes spun by Boppers DJ that will take revelers down a memory lane that will roll through each of Laurelwood’s decades.

(l to r) Ari Golub, director of Camp Laurelwood; Craig Barrows, director of the Bonim program; and Louis Lasko, assistant camp director

“We are inviting all of our former alumni, our current parents of kids at camp, any former staff member – anyone who has any connection to camp or just wants to have a good time,” says Camp Director Ari Golub.

The 21-and-up event is free, but attendees will be asked to make what Golub describes as a “meaningful gift” to support the camp and its mission.

“The theme is ‘Come Home Again,’” Golub says. “It’s really an event to celebrate the past and ensure of the future of Laurelwood.”

The evening’s program will also include a tribute to the evening’s three honorees — Ken Yaffe, Henry Zachs and Stu Katz.

Golub calls Ken Yaffe a “cornerstone” of the Laurelwood family. A mainstay at the camp for nearly 30 summers — first as a camper, then counselor, division head, athletic director and boys’ head counselor — he remains active at the camp even today and, says Golub, is a beloved figure among generations of campers.

When it comes to Campus Laurelwood, Henry Zachs is decidedly “hands-on,” notes Golub, providing the Jewish camp with his time, advice and generous financial support. Over the course of the past few years, Zachs, who heads up the Zachs Family Foundation, has spearheaded Laurelwood’s extensive renovation project, which resulted in the rejuvenation of much of the facilities on the Madison campus. According to Golub, the camp will honor Zachs and the foundation for their longtime support of Jewish education through camping.

Honoree Stu Katz has been involved with Laurelwood for half a century. Literally. He has been a camper, staff member and served on the Laurelwood board and as a member of the scholarship, marketing, alumni and development committees. He also designed and funded the Katz Digital Media Center and maintains the camps photo, document and video archives.

Funds raised from the anniversary celebration, reports Golub, will go towards dredging the camp’s lake and adding a brand new climbing tower with zip lines that will traverse the Laurelwood lake.

“It will also go toward scholarships,” he adds. “Depending upon the needs, we give up to $50,000 a year in scholarships. We would love to give more — if we had the ability to. We want to make sure camp is affordable and we try to bring as many kids to camp as we possibly can. And so, we want to try to help as many kids as we possibly can.”

In its 80 years Laurelwood, has provided not just summers full of sun, fun, friendship and activities – it has also helped ensure Jewish engagement and continuity, says Golub. And, given the spate of studies that point to Jewish camping as an experience critical to identity-building and continuity among American Jewish youth, that’s something that is priceless.

In fact, the Foundation for Jewish Camps calls the Jewish camping experience “the key to Jewish life” and where young Jews “forge a vital, lifelong connection to their essential Jewishness.”

Since 2012, Laurelwood has seen nearly $1 million worth of improvements, with all of the buildings re-sided and cabins repainted, roads repaved, pool restored, recreation hall winterized, office and health center modernized, basketball courts resurfaced, and new tennis courts installed.

In the past year, the camp renovated the staff lounge, added a new porch to the health center and added five new gaga courts.

During the last few camp seasons, Laurelwood has expanded the standard menu of activities with specialty camps: an immersive lacrosse camp run by coach Dan Sparks, a Laurelwood alumnus, and an immersive basketball camp, run by Jeremy Pringle, who also runs the regular basketball program at the camp. This year they added martial arts to the mix as well as a new Staff-in-Training (SIT) program to train rising juniors to become future counselors, and a lifeguard-training program

All that is in addition to a long list of innovative programs that, over the years, have become mainstays of the Camp Laurelwood experience – programs such as “Bonim,” – or “builders” in Hebrew – a combined leadership training and travel camp that takes campers entering 10th grade to Costa Rica for the summer.

Around 25 percent of Laurelwood’s campers every summer have a grandparent or parent who attended the camp.

Barrie Drazen of New Haven told the Jewish Ledger at the time of Laurelwood’s 75th anniversary that his time at the camp shaped him into a lifelong member of the Laurelwood family. He spent two more summers at Laurelwood as a young boy, and later sent his son and daughter to the camp in the mid-’80s.

Now his grandchildren go to Camp Laurelwood.

“It never occurred to me to do otherwise,” he says. “I had such a positive experience there and I’ve been a fan of the camp ever since my first summer. It’s always been the Jewish camp for our Greater New Haven area so it was a natural progression to send them to Laurelwood.”

Scott Cooper, president of the board of Camp Laurelwood, was a camper there from 1976-1979, a counselor from 1981-1983, and has been a board member for 25 years. His three children have all attended Laurelwood. Cooper said attending the camp helped him develop his own Jewish identity, self-confidence, independence – and introduced him to friends that he still has today.

“As I have stayed involved over the years, I have come to appreciate the importance of this institution for our entire Jewish community and look forward to see it continue for future generations,” Cooper said.

It is this love of Laurelwood from generation to generation that makes it more than just a summer camp.

“Laurelwood is an amazing place,” Golub says. “We believe in family first here. When someone comes through our gates we immediately think of them as part of our family. Laurelwood is a place that we hope people call home for the rest of their lives. It is a place where traditions and values really mean something.

“We always say Laurelwood is much more than a collection of buildings, fields or lakes — it is a place for someone to find themselves, to have new experiences, to learn new skills and make friendships that we hope will last a lifetime.”

For more information about Camp Laurelwood and the 80th Anniversary Celebration on August 26, call (203) 421-3736 or contact info@laurelwood.org, www.laurelwood.org.

Caption: (l to r) Ari Golub, director of Camp Laurelwood; Craig Barrows, director of the Bonim program; and Louis Lasko, assistant camp director.



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