It is a great privilege and honor to be the newly installed President of Tamarack Camps. I serve in this role with a deep appreciation and respect for our agency’s 113 year history. Over these 113 years, our agency—Our Village—has included tens of thousands of villagers, all contributing to the collective soul of Tamarack. Our Village consists of campers, staff, parents, donors, board members, and past-presidents.
In 1902, Blanche Hart and Ida Koppel had a vision. They recognized the need to provide outdoor recreational activities to immigrant women and children. To fulfill this dream, they began taking groups of mothers and children to Belle Isle for a day in the “fresh air.”
Their vision to provide fresh air to those that otherwise would not experience it, in 1925, led Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal, to donate 80 acres of land near Brighton. In 1925, Our Village finally had a home.
In the late 1930s, as war was raging in Europe, a young boy in Cologne Germany became an orphan, having lost his father to deportation to Poland, and his mother to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Berkanau. This young boy is my father. His childhood was spent being chased by German kids who threw stones and hurled insults at him. Without his parents, he boarded a boxcar with no windows and slept on wooden floors. He fled to a home for boys, hiding in Southern France with no food or water.
My father was fortunate. He escaped Europe and landed in America and was placed at a foster home by Detroit’s Jewish Family Service. Having lost his parents and most of his family, and within days of experiencing the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, his first summer experience in this country was a deeply gratifying breath of fresh air. With the same clothes he wore escaping the Holocaust, my orphaned father became a welcomed member of Our Village—as a Tamarack scholarship camper.
In the early 1950’s, to meet the increased number of children who needed fresh air, a second campsite was purchased. This site, where we are today, was named Camp Tamarack. Our Village had another home. A home built by counselors who just a decade earlier had been provided scholarships as campers.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Our Village’s commitment to our Jewish family did not wane. Camp welcomed Russian immigrants by providing their first summer camping experience. Again, welcoming those in financial need to Our Village with open arms.
With 113 years behind us, we are fortunate today that Our Village is quite healthy. Tamarack’s enrollment is thriving, camper and staff retention rate’s high, and camper satisfaction at an all-time high.
As I say to everyone that I speak to about Camp, we are in the business of strengthening Jewish identity. We have successfully fostered opportunities for campers to explore their relationship with Judaism in a manner generally not available during the school year. Over and over again we’ve heard from campers– that Tamarack was their most formative Jewish experience. With Blanche Hart and Ida Koppel’s vision and 113 years of collective commitment to Our Village’s mission, we are still in the business of strengthening Jewish identity.
As we lead Our Village into the future, we must respect our collective history and look forward to our collective potential. I look forward to all of Our Villagers working together to realize our future. As John Lennon once said, “a dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”