It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Rivka Shulsinger (z’l) who died earlier this month in Israel at age 97. She and her beloved husband, Shlomo (z’l), were true pioneers in every sense. Together they founded and ran the three Machanot Massad (Massad Camps) nestled in the beautiful “Harei HaPoconos” since the mid-late 1940’s. Massad Aleph, Bet and Gimel were Zionist, Hebrew speaking sleep-away camps that had virtually nothing by today’s rigorous standards, a couple of canoes on a freezing lake, yet to so many of us they were everything. The school months couldn’t pass quickly enough until we could return for yet another glorious summer in the Poconos.
At Camp Massad we found more than merely refuge for the summer; this was where we honed our Hebrew speaking skills (where else could we learn all those sports terms that may or may not have been made up), made life long friendships and some of us even found future spouses there, proudly becoming one of the many “zuggei Massad” (Massad couples). Moreover, Camp Massad was where we first sparked and nurtured our love for Eretz Yisrael, a theme pervasive in many of our summer activities and bolstered by the many “shlichim” or Israeli staff who came to spend the summers with us.
Massad was nicknamed “Yisrael B’America” and we were encouraged to speak in Hebrew during all our sports and swimming, in our bunks and in the Hadar Ochel (dining room). The reward for the most Hebrew spoken during the week by a bunk was the blue felt flag or the “Degel Ivri” which resulted in a special activity such as an outing for bowling or ice cream. During Color War our teams had names like “Tzonchanim” (Israeli paratroopers), “Ma’apilim” (the Jews who immigrated to Palestine in the 1930’s and 1940’s) or “D’gania” named after one of the first Israeli kibbutzim.
I came to Massad by sheer good fortune. My Holocaust survivor father was reading his Yiddish Forward newspaper and noticed an ad for Camp Massad. The ad boasted that scholarships were available and I was off to Massad Gimel in Effort, Pennsylvania at age 10. These camps were fed primarily by day school kids from schools like Yeshiva of Flatbush and Ramaz. I was one of the few non-day school campers. Although my father put on tefillin, said his blessings at meals and went to shul regularly, we weren’t what you would call traditionally “Shomer Shabbos.” Camp Massad, however, was. On my first Friday night at camp I ran into my bunk and switched on the lights. Can you imagine my surprise when 12 little girls ran in after me yelling “Who turned on the lights? Who turned on those lights?” Well, I did what any sensible girl would do, turned right around and joined them in the chorus of “Who turned on those lights?” Now you all know that it was me. From that point on, I didn’t do anything until I saw someone else do it first.
Shabbatot at Massad were magical. Friday night services were usually held by the glistening lake, followed by dinner, then singing and dancing outdoors. Saturdays were wonderful, as well. We were able to sleep a little longer, have Shabbat services and then enjoy a relaxing afternoon usually including a short “sicha” or study session on topics like “Pirkei Avot” and then just “hang out,” play Johnny on the Pony or go on hikes. As counselors at Massad Aleph, Rivka and Shlomo would often invite us in to “Beitenu” (their house) for Motzei Shabbat to schmooze and sing songs.
After spending five summers at Massad Gimel, that camp closed and we were sent to one of the other camps. I met my “bashert,” Mitchell, at age 15 at Massad Aleph, although we certainly didn’t know it at that time. I am now a teacher at a day school and Mitchell is currently studying to become a rabbi. It is hard to know exactly how much parts of our early years influence our life choices as we get older, yet I am certain that Camp Massad had a profound impact on my life and the lives of so many others who were lucky enough to have experienced Machanot Massad. Thank you Shlomo and Rivka for some of the best summers of my life. Baruch Dayan Emet.
Rose Herschberg Blank was a camper at Massad Gimel, Massad Aleph 1970 – 1979.