As Jews across America wait with bated breath to find out whether Chelsea will join the tribe (next question: Bar Mitzvahs for the children?) and the interfaith pair prepares for their world-famous nuptials rumored to be in Rhinebeck, NY let’s take a moment to remember: Now is not the first time Jewish eyes have zeroed in on this scenic Hudson Valley hamlet.
Between 1923 and 1979, the Rhinebeck area was the site of Camp Boiberik, a Yiddish culture camp. In a 1998 article in the Forward, former camper Mara Sokolsky recalled “an East European, socialist, Yiddish cultural overlay that permeated everything we did.” There were normal summer camp activities, but there were also mostly-secular Shabbat services, a peacenik camp logo and an abundance of singing in Yiddish. (Certainly, this is all the evidence we need to prove that Bill Clinton is a Communist.)
Itzik Gottesman, the associate editor of the Yiddish Forward, was once a camper, or – as alums like to call themselves – a Boiberikaner. He remembers Boiberik as more than just a camp. “Boiberik had a guest side where, for over fifty years, the leading Yiddish cultural writers, activists and supporters spent their summers,” he wrote, in a history of the oft-forgotten Yiddish mecca.
And to think: Humble Rhinebeck will now play host to The Most Important Wedding in the World, whose guests will surely include some of The Most Important People in the World – only this time, they probably won’t be speaking Yiddish (we’ll just keep our fingers crossed for a blessing or two in Hebrew).
Previously on the Shmooze: