On July 26, more than 100 alumni of Camp Shomria trekked up to the shores of Lake Otty in Perth, Ont., for a summer reunion.
Mara and Andy Mazer as they were at Camp Shomria in 1983, right, and reenacting the pose at last month’s camp reunion, left. [Mara Mazer photos]
The event also marked the 85th anniversary of Hashomer Hatzair Canada, a socialist Zionist movement that began in 1923 as a youth movement organized by Jewish immigrants from Europe who set up their first summer camps in 1928 as a means of preparing “groups of young adults for communal farming and life on kibbutzim in Israel.”
Presently, the overnight camp is headed by a shaliach who acts as camp director.
According to Hashomer Hatzair’s mission statement, the organization created Camp Shomria to provide campers and staff “with valuable opportunities to educate, learn about, and develop a greater understanding and appreciation for Israel, Jewish culture, Jewish history, the importance of commitment to one’s community, pluralism, and social justice.”
Its programs are also designed to “attract and serve young people who may not otherwise have an opportunity for community involvement.”
Gila Gladstone-Martow, 47, a former camper and now a promoter for Shomria, told The CJN that the reunion-anniversary gathering brought back fond memories.
“This is the second reunion I’ve been to, the other one was the 65th [anniversary]. I recognized so many people,” she said.
Gladstone-Martow, who attended the camp from 1973 to 1977, recalled how Camp Shomria was always egalitarian in its philosophy and that one of its benefits was that it forced campers to be creative with their time, as well as to learn responsibility and strike up friendships built on mutual respect.
“Make-up, nail polish and other [superficial] things were sometimes outright banned from the camp,” Gladstone-Martow said. “But it was the friendships and Israeli folk-dancing that I remember best. It was a very kibbutz-like atmosphere.”
With a capacity of “around 200 campers” per session, the camp isn’t necessarily the biggest one out there, but it does have a distinctive flavour, she said.
“This is a Jewish camp that is Israeli-style, and not many people know about it. Camp Shomria also tends towards a more artistic, musical and creative type atmosphere. So it’s not very sports oriented,” Gladstone-Martow said.
The event also saw the unveiling of a plaque at Camp Shomria’s Beit Tarbut – “house of culture” – for the Mia Gladstone Art Program, in commemoration of Gladstone-Martow’s mother, who died last November.
The environmentally conscious art program “recycles and reuses as much as possible, as well as using non-toxic products when possible,” Gladstone-Martow said.
Another former camper, Mara Mazer (neé Bernbaum) started dating her future husband, Andy, while at camp in 1983 – she attended from 1975 to 1984 – and recalled her own happy memories that were triggered by the reunion.
Mazer, 46, a teacher at Leo Baeck Day School’s northern campus, said her summers at Camp Shomria were the best years of her life.
“They shaped who I am today. It’s different than other camps… there’s a ruach [spirit] that exists that you don’t find at other camps. Everyone knows everyone. It’s youth leading youth, and everyone is always accepted, no matter what,” she said.
The influence of Hashomer Hatzair has spanned generations in Mazer’s family, starting with her mother, who attended Camp Shomria in 1950 while it was still situated north of Montreal in the Laurentians, and now with her two sons, both of whom attend the camp.
“Though we weren’t very religious, my parents wanted me and my sisters to be connected somehow to Israel and the Jewish community in some way,” Mazer said.
“I credit my time with Hashomer Hatzair for making me want to give back to the Jewish community.”
Mazer said as a result of last month’s reunion, she’s decided to become active in Hashomer Hatzair again and volunteered to help with the camp “in any way I can.”
For more information about the organization, visit www.hashomerhatzair.ca, or call 416-736-1339.