Our Founding Vision

  • Founder Eli Cohen with David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel

  • Founder Eli Cohen with Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel laureate

  • Annabelle and Arnold Cohen , second-generation leaders of The Cohen Camps, with Pembroke campers

  • At Camp Pembroke

  • At the opening of Camp Tevya in 1940

Eli and Bessie Cohen founded The Cohen Camps 85 years ago based on a deep commitment to strengthening the Jewish people through education, community and connection to 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.

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.

girls flag pole

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.

Alumni from 1965-2006 may recall that the camp organization in those years was called the Eli & Bessie Cohen Foundation. This name sounded like an endowment for the camps; in fact, it was the opposite. Camp tuition helped generate funds which were donated to support Jewish causes in the US and Israel.

Since 2004, all tuition funds are reinvested in the camp experience at Pembroke, Tel Noar, and Tevya. Changing the name to “The Cohen Camps” in 2006 reflected this switch.

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 three special communities, the trustworthiness of three generations of family leadership, and the expertise and shared resources 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. The Cohen legacy lives on!