First the building, now the camp.
In 2002, the JCC Manhattan cut the ribbon on its custom-built, 14-story building, increasing the Upper West Side institution’s square footage six-fold.
This month, the 27-year-old community center repeated the process with its day camp, closing on a new property quadruple the acreage of its current site.
This spring, Camp Settoga will be moved from its five-acre campground in Rockland County’s Pearl River 12 miles up the Palisades, where it will set up camp on the site of the recently shuttered Platzl’s Bauhaus, a German-themed corporate picnic and conference center in Pomona.
“We were increasingly aware that we weren’t going to be able to grow at our current site,” said Rabbi Joy Levitt, JCC Manhattan’s executive director.
When the leadership found out that Platzl’s land was on the market a few months ago, they acted fast. The deal was closed on Jan. 7.
“We’re really, really excited,” Rabbi Levitt said. “Camp is a very important part of our mission. It connects beautifully with our early childhood program, the Jewish Journey Project — all of our children’s programs — and we really wanted to be able to grow.”
Camp Settoga will be “fully operational” when the new site opens this summer. While the new digs can accommodate up to 500 campers — more than double the camp’s current population of roughly 225 — Rabbi Levitt said they plan to grow slowly, over several years.
For the opening season, the JCC is making plans to add an outdoor adventure course and amphitheater to Platzl’s existing layout, and do “quite a lot of work on the grounds,” including additional landscaping and upgraded sports fields.
Platzl’s Bauhaus’ buildings are ready to use with only minor modifications. In addition to the landscaping, “All we have to do is put a big Camp Settoga sign at the entrance,” Rabbi Levitt said.
With so many Jewish day camps operating in rural areas just outside of the city — such as the 92nd Street Y’s Camp Yomi, the 14th Street Y’s New Country Day Camp and a newly opening Camp Twelve Trails at Camp Settoga’s former site, will there be enough campers to fill Camp Settoga once it has grown to full size?
Yes, said Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
“There are plenty of campers to go around. The day camp market in the metropolitan New York region is massive, and it’s wonderful that families have so many choices,” he said in an email message. “Each camp is different from the next. Finding the right camp is often about finding a community your child can be part of for summers to come.”
For now, the offerings in Pomona will be roughly the same as at Pearl River, but, because the JCC no longer has to share facilities with several other camps, the activities will be expanded and scheduled at more convenient times.
“Essentially, what we’re doing is deepening and broadening the experience of Pearl River,” she said.
And the options for additional activities down the line are vast. “We imagine in our future the possibility of golf, archery, all sorts of things we weren’t be able to do,” Rabbi Levitt said.
And what will the JCC do with the grounds during the rest of the year?
“Right now our focus is 150 percent on opening this summer,” Rabbi Levitt said, “but we certainly imagine day programming up there, all sorts of sports clinics, camping overnights, programs for young adults, yoga retreats.”
“This is the first brand new capital project of the JCC since we bought the [Upper West Side] building. Those of us who were remember the thrill of designing the building. We listened to our families and, essentially, we did what they told us to do,” she added. “That’s what we’re going to do here.”