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Creator Of ‘Mini-Israel’

Creator Of ‘Mini-Israel’

Shlomo Shulsinger, a Jerusalem native who came to the United States with his family as a teenager and became a pioneer in the Hebrew-speaking summer camping field, died Oct. 19 in his hometown after a long illness. He was 92 and was buried on the Mount of Olives.
Mr. Shulsinger — who was known to his campers simply as Shlomo — founded Camp Massad in Far Rockaway, Queens, and developed the day camp into three overnight camps in the Poconos. The camps closed in 1981.
Mr. Shulsinger retired in 1977, returning with his wife, Rivka, to Jerusalem.
Thousands of young Jews attended Camp Massad over some four decades, said Noam Shudofsky, his nephew and former administrator at the Ramaz day school in Manhattan.
Many of the campers and staff members made aliyah or became leaders of the Jewish community in the United States. They included writers Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, feminist Blu Greenberg, filmmaker Menachem Golan, Zamir Chorale founder Matthew Lazar, Manhattan rabbis Haskel Lookstein and Balfour Brickner, and Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens attended Camp Massad for six years. “My love of Israel was enormously shaped by the camp,” said Rabbi Skolnik, who leads a Conservative congregation. “It made me want to go there. It made me want to spend time there. It created a generation of American Jews that loved Israel.”
“It was a place where you could meet people that were not necessarily from the same background as you,” said Lawrence Kobrin, a Massad counselor who became a lawyer and president of Massad Camps.
“One of Massad’s exciting features was its Jewish pluralism and tolerance,” Rabbi Lookstein said. “It was an Orthodox camp but one in which children from Conservative and Reform homes, and even secular homes, could feel comfortable and appreciated.”
Born in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem to a family that had come from White Russia in 1870, Mr. Shulsinger moved to Baltimore in 1929 when his father became a fund-raiser for several Jerusalem yeshivas.
Mr. Shulsinger attended Baltimore’s Hebrew College and taught at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn for a few years before deciding to establish a summer camp where Hebrew was the spoken language.
Mr. Shulsinger envisioned the camp as a place to learn about Judaism instead of just playing sports, as “a mini-Israel within the confines of a summer camp,” Kobrin said.
Camp Massad opened in Far Rockaway in 1941. The original camp came to be called Massad Alef when two other sites, Massad Beth and Massad Gimmel, followed.
Popular with parents who appreciated the camps’ intellectual approach and physical distance, in rural Pennsylvania, from the heat of urban New York and the risk of children contracting such diseases as polio, the camps grew until nearly 1,000 campers attended each summer.
Camp Massad, according to former campers, was the first-such camp where Hebrew was the everyday language.
Rabbi Skolnik recalled the speeches Mr. Shulsinger, who was based at Massad Alef, gave each summer at Massad Beth standing in the center of a packed dining hall.
“He looked like David Ben-Gurion,” Rabbi Skolnik said. Mr. Shulsinger was of average height and favored the Sabra open-collared look. “He was bald in the middle of his head,” and had white tufts on each side, like Israel’s founding prime minister. “He spoke very quietly.
By the 1970s, the camps’ popularity diminished because of a waning birthrate, the availability of summer programs in Israel and competition from other Jewish camps.
Back in Israel after he retired, Mr. Shulsinger remained devoted to the primacy of Hebrew, Shudofsky said. “Anyone who came to see him, till the day he died … no one spoke to him in English.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Shulsinger is survived by a son, Oded; a daughter, Geulah; and three grandchildren.

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