Legacy since 1935 - 1945
Our history: how community-building and youth leadership inspired Jewish camping
Eli and Bessie Cohen founded the Cohen Camps in 1935 based on a deep commitment to strengthening the Jewish people through education, community, and cultivating a connection to the people of what would become Israel.
Three generations of family leadership have stewarded that legacy: after Eli and Bessie, Eli’s son Arnold and his wife Annebelle led the camps, and today their son Jonathan Cohen continues this commitment to Jewish life and learning.
Histories of our three Jewish camps
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, 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, in 1940 they founded Camp Tevya, our larger co-ed camp, 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 a commitment to the effort. 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 and teens, like the other two.
Contributions to Boston area and Israel
The Cohen family has long supported many Jewish and social causes in the Boston area, such as Hebrew College in Newton. The Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead was for many years called Cohen Hillel Academy in honor of Eli and Bessie’s contributions.
The Cohens also invested their charitable donations to support Israel in its early years, contributing to the Hadassah Hospital, Wingate Institute, and David Yellin College of Education, 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 all families and all Jewish backgrounds and experiences.
Today, the Cohen Camps combine the character and passion of three special communities, the trustworthiness of three generations of family leadership, and the expertise and shared resources of the staff and Board of a single organization. As independent, non-denominational, nonprofit camps, the camps are entirely-self supported through tuition and the generosity of donors.
Each season, we embrace new families and celebrate the return of second- and third-, and now fourth-generation families as campers and staff.