Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
The Schmooze

The Camp That Gave Birth To Jewish Folk Turns 50

(JTA) — Whether it’s first love or night swimming, many American Jews have nostalgic memories from Jewish summer camp. For the first class of campers to attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s flagship camp in Warwick, New York, those memories just turned 50 years old.

The URJ’s Kutz Camp, known for being the birthplace of modern spiritual Jewish folk music, celebrated its 50th anniversary this Fourth of July weekend. Hundreds of Kutz alumni joined Union for Reform Judaism leaders — including its president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs — at the camp on Friday night and all of Saturday to mark the occasion. While night swimming wasn’t on the agenda, outdoor activities, workshops and other adult summer camp activities were planned.

In 1965, Kutz Camp became the summer headquarters for NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth, the youth arm of the Union for Reform Judaism.

In 1969, a singer named Debbie Friedman became the camp’s song leader. Friedman’s songs – some of which she wrote at Kutz Camp in the early ’70s – would go on to revolutionize Jewish music and prayer. Many of her melodies, like “L’chi Lach” and “Mi Shebeirach,” are still sung in congregations across the country.

Friedman, who died from pneumonia in 2011 at the age of 59, and her music no doubt were remembered at the Kutz Camp anniversary.

With the upcoming release of a television series based on the film “Wet Hot American Summer,” Jewish summer camp is getting another moment in the spotlight. But as Kutz Camp reminds us, Jewish camp has been a fixture of American Jewish culture for a long time.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.