WINNIPEG — Camp Massad, the only Hebrew-immersion summer camp in Western Canada, is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Former campers and counsellors are invited to come and celebrate the anniversary at an alumni reunion from Aug. 24 to 26.
“We are anticipating between 100 and 150 people will come out for the weekend,” said Hart Jacob, a member of the reunion’s planning committee and a former Massad program director.
Capacity at the camp, which is located about a 45-minute drive north of Winnipeg, is 170.
Camp director Daniel Sprintz said that almost every former program director and numerous former counsellors and campers have already signed up for the reunion, eager to sing old cabin songs, debate Maccabiah scores, dance to Rikudei Am, and write and perform shtick for Café ben Leumi.
Massad has, from the beginning, offered a camping experience unlike any other Jewish camp in Western Canada. First of all, it is a Hebrew-immersion camp. The camping experience also features such traditional camping activities as swimming, hiking and a variety of sports.
Massad grew out of the Talmud Torah Hebrew School and Zionist youth groups. The campsite at Winnipeg Beach was originally a Habonim camp. With the founding of the State of Israel, most of the Habonim leadership were anticipating making aliyah.
One of the Habonim youths, Soody Kleiman, had spent nine months in Israel, where he had learned about two Hebrew-speaking camps that were both Camp Massads – in Pennsylvania – and he felt that one could work for Winnipeg as well.
On his return to Winnipeg in 1952 before making aliyah, Kleiman and some friends were able to get support from the leadership of the Karen Hatarbut organization (Labour Zionists) in Winnipeg for a Hebrew-immersion camp.
Among Kleiman’s most important supporters was Rabbi Abraham Kravetz, the principal of Talmud Torah, who promoted the new camp among his students. “Our Habonim camp had always kept kosher,” Kleiman said. “And we had a Shabbat service.”
Kleiman became the new camp’s first senior counsellor and program director. Ed Yuditsky, the principal of the Talmud Torah in Regina, became the camp’s first director.
Leona Billinkoff was recruited to be the first administrator. Billinkoff had been a volunteer at Talmud Torah and had impressed Rabbi Kravitz with her abilities. She turned out to be an inspired choice to lead Massad. She served in that role for 25 years and left her stamp on Massad.
It was also helpful that Billinkoff’s late husband, Alec, was a builder by profession. He helped build up the camp’s physical infrastructure.
“The programs we set up are little changed to this day,” said Kleiman, still vigorous as he nears 80. “I am delighted that the camp has succeeded so well.”
Kleiman did make aliyah in 1954, but returned to Winnipeg with a wife and young family four years later. He said that his only involvement with the camp after returning to Winnipeg was through his sons.
The reunion will focus on the creative side of Massad, Jacob said. That includes sing-alongs and Israeli dance and skits and songs in the evenings, as well as Shabbat dinner and services. During the day, former campers and staff will take part in water and sports activities. Reunion participants will be in cabins with their peers.
For more information about the reunion, call 204-477-7487 or e-mail [email protected]