A View from the Camp Advisory Committee

I have been on the Camp Committee for awhile now, and Chair for the past four years. I collaborate with the Executive Director of CIL – Toni Davison Levenberg – her team, and the committee to enable staff, parents, alumni, and especially campers to have a better connection with all things Interlaken. The Camp Advisory Committee consists of alumni, parents, donors, and those with a specific skill set, and we are from all over the USA.

Camp Interlaken’s Mission Statement
Camp Interlaken JCC strives to offer an incomparable Jewish summer experience for campers and staff located in Wisconsin’s north woods. Camp fosters enduring relationships, a love of the Jewish community, and a connection to Israel while promoting individual growth, learning, and fun.

What has the committee been up to?

The Camp Advisory Committee usually operates quietly in the background, so I thought I would share a bit about our work. Our goal is to fulfill the camp’s mission – to return campers at the end of their session a better version of themselves and to give them the best summer ever.

Internally we have raised the bar and operationally improved our governance (nominating procedures, onboarding, term limits, internal surveys, and sub-committee structure), we have done strategic plans, and worked on SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). We endured a Covid shutdown and came out better for it – with some tweaks to operations and facility improvements. Camp now has the Zen Den – a quiet room for campers & staff to decompress – remodeled cabins, refurbished wash houses, washing stations, new protocols, and more useable outdoor spaces. 

The committee continues to spend time on how to best care for the mental well-being of our staff and campers. We spent time on gender identity, so that staff and campers feel more comfortable being themselves at camp, including DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) initiatives and policies. We have discussed overall camper and staff safety too. The committee has worked on improving camp and parent communications, new parent onboarding, medication dispensary, and infirmary care and procedures.

We have partnered with a few other organizations, namely the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s JCamp 180 and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which each support our philanthropy work and help us with fundraising, matching grants, advisory, and planning. We have a professional philanthropy team, created a development plan, and have worked to connect more with those invested in camp’s success.

Our alumni engagement team has brought back a newsletter, alumni events (Zoom Shabbat, Havdalah Around the World, “Legend” calls, video meetups, and more social media outreach) and random city gatherings.

During my time on the committee, we ended the onslaught of packages that campers received (sometimes daily), removed screens from camp (phones and tablets), developed an anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy, established a cabin brit, tweaked camp programs, refined our visitor’s program, volunteered, and donated our time and talents, in addition to our own philanthropic support. 

Cost of Camp & Affordability

Yes, camp has gotten expensive, and as you know it’s not just camp that has faced price increases. Operating camp is like owning a home or operating your own business. We have tried to keep camp price increases around the same as inflation, but it does not always work out. Camp has many different expense categories: insurance (camp has a fleet of vehicles – EZ go ride, anyone?), numerous facilities that require maintenance (cabins, ulam, canteen, office), a kitchen (we recently replaced a few main appliances), increasing food costs (kosher food at that), a septic system, employment costs, and 100+ acres to keep up. Just like you may replace your home’s driveway basketball hoop, your swing set, and your bicycle – camp’s sailboats, ski-boats, life jackets, tents, and athletic equipment each year get a lot of wear and tear. Like your business, camp also has a computer system and phone system that need placement as well. The Rom Call System (may it RIP) needed replacement. It’s not just Interlaken’s price that has gone up – we often compare what other camps charge as well (Jewish, secular, private, and non-profit).

Camp has more senior staff on the payroll (if you’re alumni, more staff than when you were a camper). A primary reason for this relates to increased MESH (Mental, Emotional, Social, Health) needs of campers and our young staff.

The committee has kept an eye on costs, took time to understand camp’s scholarship process, and we continue to work on making camp more affordable – mainly through scholarship support. With more requests for scholarships than ever before, the committee has been increasing the pool of funds available for scholarships. These efforts include growing our endowments and applying for grants.

JCC & Camp

First, Toni is the longest tenured Camp Director and its first Executive Director. We are lucky to have her experience and institutional knowledge. Second, Interlaken has been fortunate to be part of the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC in Milwaukee. The professional staff of the JCC is incredibly supportive of Camp Interlaken. As a program of the JCC, camp is able to use and leverage the agency’s HR department, finance team, marketing department, as well as partner and work closely with their philanthropy team (who helps guide and execute Toni and the camp committee’s various endeavors and helps with grant writing, etc.). Having all this expertise without having to hire our own professionals relieves a burden. Lastly, and best of all, is that the JCC’s President & Chief Executive Officer is a camper at heart – so he understands everything we’re trying to accomplish. 

Camper Experience

While the business of operating camp has evolved, the essence of camp and the camper experience has remained, at heart, the same. Yes, there is a swimming pool, a ropes course, and some camp “toys,” (in part to keep up with the competition and other local summer programming). That said, kids can still do a lake swim, sail, ski, campers have a closing campfire, develop a connection to Israel, and live Jewishly (I learned the Birkat while a camper). Campers still participate in an all camp Shabbat walk, still go on an overnight, have “nosh,” do a little avodah, participate in Nikayon (Schmutz busters rule), put on a “talent” show, produce a camp play, compete in Maccabiah, endure KTO, live in K’far village, apply to be Ozos, watch the most awesome Lake Finely sunsets, and smell the fresh pine scented air while sitting in white Adirondack chairs. (Yes, I activated the Wayback machine. Shall I continue…?)

Campers still step off a coach bus being mobbed by enthusiastic counselors on the floval (flag rectangle) with their fully packed trunk (well, now a duffel bag) with their name written on each article of clothing. We old timers can nitpick that camp does not seem as kibbutz-y and avodah-y as it was 40 years ago. Staff rarely get tossed in the lake, and kuntzim (pranks) are frowned upon by the establishment. Regardless, cabins fill up year after year, and campers and staff alike are addicted to camp. The chadar ochel (dining hall) still rocks during Friday night Shabbat song session. The lakeside amphitheater has to be one of the prettiest settings around. “Bashana Haba’ah” still can be heard echoing across the lake, the cabin doors still slam shut, and occasional bald eagle soars over camp, campers still go to chugim, Tushball is just as popular, campers get an “Eizeh Yofi” for making it around the lake on skis, letters get mailed home, and the day ends with “Rad-Hayom.” Campers love it and cannot wait to go back (read that as camper retention is high). Finally, we have alumni that are scattered all over the States who now send their kids to Interlaken – how great is that?! Staff and campers, more than ever considering what is going on in the world, need a Jewish summer camp experience.

What a tribute to Jack, Ateret, Howard, and now Toni – for continuing to carry on Interlaken’s traditions and stellar reputation. While some things at camp have changed to keep up with the times, the essence and experience of camp is the same. Campers are getting to enjoy the woods of northern Wisconsin, de-stress, develop a connection to Judaism and Israel, be with cool counselors, and hang with their friends in the magical place called Interlaken, one of the nation’s most respected co-ed overnight Jewish camps.


I’ll leave you with this:

B’nai He-atid (da-da-da-da-da!).  

Now you’re going to want to sing it, so here are the lyrics. 

B’nai he’atid Anu b’nai he’atid Avadim hayinu bamidbar V’ata anu olim B’eretz chofshit Yisrael Bamakom hahu Y’hudim hishtadlu La’azor et ha’am V’am Yisrael chai (2) La, la, la … V’am Yisrael Chai (2) B’eretz chofshit Yisrael! 

Interlaken’s future is as bright as ever.

Thank you, 

Bryan Sadoff, Chair
Camp Interlaken Advisory Committee

P.S. One more summer and camp will be celebrating our 60th best summer ever!

P.P.S. Connect with camp! Join Interlaken’s social media (Facebook, Instagram). Send Interlaken your current contact information at info@campinterlaken.org.