26 Dec Getting Ready for the Annual Camp HASC Concert “A Time for Music 32”
For the last 47 years, Mr. Shmiel Kahn has been the camp director of Camp HASC. This January 6th, Camp HASC will be holding its 32nd concert of “A Time for Music” produced by the renowned producer Eli Gerstner. Last week Ari Hirsch from The Vues had the privilege to interview Mr. Kahn to discuss Camp HASC and the epic concert coming up.
Please give everyone a brief history of Camp HASC.
Camp HASC started in 1972 as a small camp with 35 children and approximately 20-25 staff members. Now, some 48 year later, the HASC Summer program has 320 children and young adults with a staff of close to 600. My parents A”H appreciated the community’s need for such a program which motivated them to establish Camp HASC. Rabbi Mordechai & Mrs. Blanche Kahn considered the need for parents to experience a respite from the hard work of caring for their children with special needs all year long. Similarly, they recognized the immense benefit to the children themselves who would have an opportunity to leave the confines of their urban environment for an open-air, spacious, refreshing Upstate mountain setting specifically designed to meet their every need. While there were several mainstream summer camps at the time none existed for children with special needs.
Is Camp HASC your full time job?
Camp HASC is the source of great fulfillment and overwhelming satisfaction! My full-time job is serving as Executive Director of HASC Center, of which Camp HASC is an affiliate. HASC was founded by my parents, Rabbi Mordechai and Mrs. Blanch Kahn, A”H in 1963, as a school for children with special needs. It subsequently grew into a network of inter-related programs forming a comprehensive network of services for children and adults with special needs.
Let’s talk about the concert a little bit. When did the concert officially begin? The first concert was in 1987. At that time, Camp HASC was in need of additional funding to address the ever-burgeoning financial deficit. Shea Mendlowitz in conjunction with Moshe Kahn, my brother, who at time was the co-director of the camp, decided that the concert would be a successful way to raise funds. To this day, the concert is our largest source of fundraising. However, with every passing year our budget increases and we must work on additional creative ways to raise funds so that we can cover our budget while not compromising the quality and enriched experiences for both camper and staff.
It seems that every year the Time for Music Concert gets better & better. Over the last 3 years, it’s moved to a completely new level. Is that because you now have Eli Gerstner producing the show? Yes. The concert has absolutely gone to the next level and we have Eli to thank for that. It’s gone from really good to absolutely incredible. Going to a HASC concert is an unbelievable experience. Our concert is unquestionably THE premier concert in the Jewish community.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about the concert? The concert that is coming up is going to be a tremendous concert. Tickets are selling at a record pace. There are less than 150 tickets left as of this article being written 2 weeks before the show! This is a truly a record b”H! Don’t ask me who is going to be playing because I don’t know. I leave that to Eli Gerstner. I do want to note that we are most appreciative to both our past and current donors. It is only through their support and generosity that we are able to serve the people with special needs.
Over the summer you have many performers come to Camp HASC. Is there a specific performer that you find the campers enjoy more? All the performers, the famous ones and the less famous ones and everyone in between, love performing at Camp HASC and the campers love them. Sometimes there are two or three concerts a week at camp. It’s not just the music; yes, the performers come and sing, but they also hug the kids and jump with them and dance with them. It’s gevaldik! It becomes an interactive experience where they bring the kids up on stage, let the kids sing the songs in their own way with the performers singing along. It’s something totally different. You have to see it to understand it.
What is the current camper to staff member ratio in Camp HASC? Basically, every camper who comes to Camp HASC has a one-on-one counselor. For campers who have more challenges, either behaviorally or medically, there can even be a two camper to three counselor ratio while sometimes there will be two counselors to a camper. The specific ratio is dependent on the camper’s individual needs. Our priority is unquestionably each camper’s safety and ultimately to help him or her gain the most from the Camp HASC experience.
What kind of experience do the Camp HASC counselors have? Not only do the kids have a great time, but the counselors have a great time, as well with all types of events, Shiurim, visitations form prominent Roshei Yeshiva and influential leaders of the Jewish community. They also grow in their level of responsibility and in the
appreciation of what it means to give of one’s self. From the age of 18-21 they have the opportunity to be a counselor at Camp HASC and in those years they learn to share in a way they have never given before. In order to address the needs of the campers, a counselor must give of themselves 24 hours every day. Some kids don’t sleep at night, some get up late, and some get up early or go to sleep late. They are literally responsible for every aspect of a camper’s daily living needs. From the perspective of a counselor, their Camp HASC experience is something that will never be replicated in their lives. They learn to appreciate that the world is not only where you take from your mother and your father. Rather, you learn how to give, to extend yourself for the benefit of others, express love and to perform Chesed.
I’m sure you’re always trying to improve the camp from one summer to the next. Always. Always.
Is there anything you can share with us that you’re working on for this upcoming summer? We want to build a playground right behind the main building which houses the camp shul. Given the proximity of this play area, those campers who can’t sit still during the entirety of davening will have a place of refuge. We’re also upgrading all the bathrooms by surfacing the walls with tiles. There’s a lot of simple maintenance as things break and things get worn out over the summer. As we are speaking, there are four people putting new roofs on the bunks. We are always engaged in preventative maintenance.
What is your favorite part about camp? Aside from the activities in camp, davening is the most beautiful time in Camp HASC. If you come to davening in the morning, there are about 10-12 individuals standing around the amud. Rabbi Willig, the camp Rabbi, gives each person a chance to say brachos. We say everything out loud. Not everyone says the words but everyone davens to HaShem in their own way. You have to be there to see it otherwise you can’t even imagine it. I’ll tell you a small story. Rabbi Yissocher Frand came to Camp HASC a few years ago to give the counselors chizuk one evening. He stood in the back of the shul and although we invited him to come to the front, he preferred to stay in the back. When Maariv was over, he spoke to the counselors. “You know,” he said. “I was zocheh to daven Maariv here with the campers and I want to tell you that I’ve davened with the biggest Roshei Yeshiva and the biggest Rebbes, but I’ve never had a Maariv like here in camp HASC. Everyone in camp was davening. They weren’t necessarily saying the words of ‘Shma Yisrael,’ but everyone was saying ‘Shema’ in their own way.” That’s the beauty of Camp HASC. Everyone davens to HaShem in their own words, in their own way, and HaShem is mekabel their tefillos.
The Mashgiach of BMG in Lakewood, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, always comes on Erev Shabbos Nachamu to give Chizzuk to the counselors. During this year’s visit, he said something fascinating, “when Moshiach comes, he will most definitely come to Camp HASC first because of the tremendous amount of Chesed that takes place here. Additionally, he told the counselors, “at the time of his arrival, make sure to tell Moshiach that the Mashgiach is a friend and they want to take him along too!”
Is there anything else that you are planning going forward that you would like to share? Yes. Camp HASC needs the help of the community to move forward. The community can help by donating to this very worthy cause. We need everyone’s help to move forward and sustain this very unique place. It’s a camp for the campers. It is a camp for the parents and the siblings of the kids, as well. When the individual camper leaves the family for the summer, the family has the opportunity to possibly do things that could not do the rest of year. When their child goes to camp, the families can feel a significant degree of relief knowing that their child is being taken care of and they can spend quality time with their mainstream children.
Supporting Camp HASC and coming to the concert helps us continue to do the work that is essential. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you IY”H on January 6, 2019 at Lincoln Center, David Gefen Hall for a Time for Music 32.