CT News Feature Stories

Going Strong! After 40 years, Camp Shalom in Windsor continues to make a splash!

By Stacey Dresner

Forty years ago, Camp Shalom opened its 75-acre site on the scenic banks of the Farmington River in Windsor.

The Mandell Jewish Community Center had already operated a summer day camp for several years in New Hartford, but the relocation of the camp to this new site was a new beginning – the beginning of “40 Years of Fun, Friendship and Family,” at Camp Shalom.

A celebration of Camp Shalom’s 40th anniversary will be held August 3 – 5 – three fun-filled three days of festivities.

On Friday evening, August 3, Camp Shalom will host “Shabbat Under the Stars,” a Shabbat service and family Shabbat dinner. The next day, friends of Camp Shalom are invited to drop in to the Mandell JCC’s Swim and Tennis Club in Bloomfield where they can enjoy fun in the sun from 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.

Then, on Sunday, August 5, the community is invited to an Anniversary Celebration at Camp Shalom from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that will allow campers, past and present, to re-live their magical camp days.

The celebration is free and open to the community, and those attending will be able to participate in all kinds of camp activities – swimming, boating, tennis, field games, crafts, song circles, a cook-out lunch and much more.  “There is such a deep and rich history here, and to be celebrating 40 years at this location is incredibly special,” says David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC who was a Camp Shalom counselor when it opened in Windsor 40 years ago.

Setting up stakes on the banks of the Rainbow Reservoir

What would become Camp Shalom began as a day camp that used local park facilities before expanding and moving to New Hartford. That site was purchased by the Jewish Children’s Service Organization (JCSO) and leased back to the JCC for a nominal fee.

In 1978, under the leadership of local Jewish leaders Simon Konover and Barry Greene, the camp was moved to its bucolic Windsor location which, orginially, was a YMC

A camp called Camp Rainbow, owing to its setting on the banks of the Windsor’s Rainbow Reservoir.

At the dedication of Camp Shalom in 1977: (back row, l to r) Barry Green, Camp Shalom committee chair; Merrill Stein, Lewis Rabinovitz, Joseph Hurwitz, Sam Spitz; (front row, l to r) JCC Executive Director Murry Shapiro; Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford Executive Director Don Cooper; benefactor Simon Konover

In 1981, the camp’s name was changed to Camp Shalom, its campus filled with ball fields, tennis courts, a dining hall, swimming pool, arts & crafts huts, archery field, and a dock leading to the Farmington River that is used for water sports like canoeing, tubing and water-skiing.

“So much has changed in 40 years, yet so much has stayed the same,” says Karen Wyckoff, camping and youth director. “The hope every summer, as it has been for 40 years, is to inspire the potential in every child who comes to Camp Shalom, to foster a love of adventure and provide lifelong memories. I’m overwhelmed thinking about all the campers who have made Camp Shalom what it is today.”

Additional camp programs have been added over the years, some of which take place “off campus” — like a theater camp for 4th through 7th graders that culminates in a full-scale production and in the JCC’s main facility in West Hartford, and sports camp, held at the JCC Swim and Tennis Center in Bloomfield.

Camp Shalom also offers a comprehensive program for campers with learning disabilities. The Learning Hut offers special needs campers the opportunity to participate in summer camp activities with their peers.

Jewish traditions are woven throughout

Last year, renowned actress Jessica Hecht starred in the Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.” In 1980, the West Hartford native was a hit among campers as a Camp Shalom counselor.

Open to everyone, Camp Shalom is guided by Jewish traditions and culture — as it has been throughout its 40-year history. Shabbat is celebrated every Friday; campers are served lunch made in the camp’s kosher kitchen and each meal begins with the hamotzi — a blessing over bread — and ends with birkat hamazon — grace after meals.

Camp units are named after Israeli cities like “Tel Aviv” and “Haifa” and each year two “Israeli Scouts” are on hand to share Israeli culture and history – as well as their love for Israel — with young campers.

Changing Lives

“One of the most remarkable observances we see each and every year is how much of a difference camp makes in somebody’s life in such a short period of time,” David Jacobs said. “This camp is built on the foundation of the children who spend their summer here, whether they are here for just two weeks or here all summer, each and every one of them enriches the traditions of Camp Shalom.”

Colby Wyckoff, Karen’s daughter, attended Camp Shalom as a child.

Simon and Doris Konover with Frank Stavis

“My entire childhood and adolescence was centered around this place,” she says. “I’m still in touch to this day, with my camp friends. We share a special bond with one another that is indescribable. Camp Shalom truly is magical. “

Today, Colby serves as Children and Youth Program director at the Mandell JCC and spends her summers working at Camp Shalom.

“I’m lucky enough to get to come back to my happy place each summer; something that I know my camp friends are envious of. The memories that we share from our camp days are endless,” she says. “When I tell our current campers that I was once a camper here myself, they can’t believe it. Then, to show them where my name is written on the walls in the cabins, right next to an N’SYNC sticker — it creates a deeper connection with our campers. It is an amazing feeling to share.”

The story continues

Andy Kursman of West Hartford first boarded a bus for Camp Shalom when he was 11 years old. He continued to ride that bus for eight summer seasons, first as a camper and then as a counselor.

Years later, Andy and his wife Debbie sent their three children — Josh, Sam and Danielle — first to the Campareenah summer preschool program at the JCC in West Hartford, then on to Camp Shalom. Two of them were counselors at Camp Shalom and Debbie once worked at the camp’s “Learning Hut.”

Kursman is looking forward to attending the 40th anniversary celebration where he will no doubt run into old friends.

“The most fond memory I have of Camp Shalom is the long-lasting friendships that I have from camp,” he says.

And those lasting friendships are very important, said Gayle Tempkin, president of the Mandell JCC.

“It has been proven that a day camp is just as important as an overnight camp in terms of Jewish continuity. You get to bring back home what you ‘ve learned at camp and your community and intertwine them together,” Temkin says. “The friendships and the growth you get from Camp Shalom is bar none. They offer activities for everybody, it’s all-inclusive, and they have a magical way of making everyone feel connected and involved. I think that it gives the campers, the counselors, and the staff all a feeling of family and of belonging, just as the JCC does.”

Indeed, the 40th anniversary celebration will seem more like a family reunion as former campers and their families return to the place that means so much to them.

“This is a place where you choose your family,” Jacobs says, “and once you’re a part of the Camp Shalom family, you are forever a part of its legacy.”

Comments? email staceyd@jewishledger.com



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