Eli and Bessie realized the power of the immersive experience of summer camp and its ability to engage, teach and develop children in an informal setting. They saw summer camps as an excellent vehicle for addressing core needs of the Jewish community. In collaboration with others in the YMHA movement, they helped found Camp Bauercrest, the first all-boys Jewish overnight camp in New England. Wanting to provide the same opportunity for young Jewish women, the Cohens independently founded Camp Pembroke, still New England’s only Jewish cultural camp just for girls, in 1935.
Understanding the need to provide all children with an immersive Jewish experience in an outdoor setting they next founded Camp Tevya, our larger co-ed camp, in 1940 as a “fresh air” camp for low-income inner-city Jewish youth.
Eli and Bessie were active in helping to create the State of Israel by raising funds and cultivating Zionism. They founded Tel Noar Lodge in 1945 as a camp where young adults, aged 18-25, could spend a meaningful vacation imbued with Zionist spirit and learning. After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Tel Noar Lodge became Camp Tel Noar, for children, like the other two.
The Cohens also invested their charitable donations to support Israel in its early years, contributing to the Hadassah Hospital, Wingate Institute and David Yellin Teacher’s College, among other institutions.
While all three camps remain rooted in Eli and Bessie’s vision, they have progressed and transformed to meet 21st Century communal concerns, with a focus on engaging young people in exploring a deep, personal and joyful connection to Jewish life, Jewish values, Israel and their communities. All three camps are pluralistic, welcoming families of all Jewish backgrounds and experiences.
Today, The Cohen Camps combine the character and passion of an independent non-profit, the trustworthiness of three generations of family leadership, and the expertise and shared resources of an affiliated organization. Each season, we embrace new families and celebrate the return of second- and third-, and now fourth-, generation families. The Cohen legacy lives on!