Normally, this issue of the Independent would feature our third Camp Guide of the season, with several camps advertising their summer sessions, and several articles on various topics related to Jewish camp. But COVID-19 seriously affected last summer’s programming and it’s making this year’s planning difficult, to say the least. Camp Hatikvah and Camp Miriam – which are overnight camps – have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.
With record camper enrolment, 2020 was slated to be Camp Hatikvah’s best year ever. By the third week of March, however, it became apparent that the summer wasn’t going to go as planned. By the end of May, the Provincial Health Officer had announced that overnight camps would be prohibited from operating and Camp Hatikvah had to cancel its upcoming season.
“It was devastating,” said Liza Rozen-Delman, the camp’s director. “My heart immediately broke for the 700 participants and 80 young counselors who were signed up for our programming. After such a hard few months in lockdown, I knew everyone was hanging on to the hope that they would still get to go to camp. The fact that this was no longer a possibility was so hard for everyone. I just wanted to fix this for kids but was helpless to do so. It was a very difficult time.”
The cancellation also created a financial crisis, as there was no program revenue to cover fixed costs, such as insurance fees, site maintenance and administrative expenses. Camp Miriam faced financial issues as well, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver provided emergency funding to both camps last April.
“Our community made it clear that we would not face this challenge alone,” said Joanna Wasel, Camp Hatikvah board president. “They knew we were in trouble and they immediately felt the call to action.” By the first week of June, Hatikvah had raised enough money to cover all of their 2020 fixed operational expenses.
“This was one of the hardest years in the camp’s history and yet, in a strange way, it was also one of our most meaningful,” said Wasel. “The way the community stepped up for us is an incredible affirmation of the value of our work and the impact Camp Hatikvah has had on generations of people. It has touched us beyond words and we will be forever grateful.”
“Last spring, as the reality of the pandemic hit, it was as if the rug had been pulled out from under us,” said Leah Levi, registrar of Camp Miriam. “We were scrambling to figure out how to provide what we do each summer on Gabriola Island – the fun, magic, community, friendship and Jewish experiences that our campers have come to expect from us. It was very overwhelming and we were sort of lost, until our youth staff stepped up and started planning for what was possible: day camps in Vancouver, Victoria and Portland, and even online programming for those who couldn’t attend the day camps. We rented space with the JCC’s Camp Shalom at Vancouver Talmud Torah, and in Victoria at the JCC. Donors and the Vancouver Jewish Federation backed our plans with financial support and, as they say, the rest is history!”
The camp’s staff, who are all between the ages of 17 and 22, got “to spend the summer being mentors and learning valuable leadership skills,” said Levi. “Parents and kids were grateful that we gave them a break from each other and a fun, unplugged, Jewish, social experience during COVID. For over 200 campers, COVID-19 took a backseat for six-and-a-half hours a day, and they were able to enjoy a physically distanced ‘normal.’ Even though they weren’t on Gabriola Island, campers and staff alike felt that they were at Miriam. As one camper put it, ‘We learned that Camp Miriam is not a place, it’s a feeling and we can take it anywhere.’”
For this coming summer, Camp Miriam has opened registration for three two-week sessions on Gabriola.
“All registrations are considered ‘pre-registrations’ and everyone is on a waitlist,” said Levi. “We will only accept campers when we have permission from the B.C. health authority, as their decision made last spring to not allow overnight camp still stands…. If we do not get permission to open … we will offer similar programming as last summer.”
Hatikvah translates to “the hope” in English and, while COVID is still raging, Camp Hatikvah remains hopeful they will be able to operate this summer, too.
“We are full for the upcoming season,” Rozen-Delman said. “Kids need camp, perhaps now more than ever, and we are going to do whatever we can to get them back there this summer.”
Acknowledging that much of the situation is out of their hands, Rozen-Delman is planning for a variety of scenarios. “And, while it is hard to face so many unknowns,” she said, “we are determined to find creative solutions to whatever challenges lay ahead.”