What a special day!
Friends… emotion… tears… and laughter. Over 250 family, friends, and camp staff, attended this dedication of the Michael Jeser Bog Field, refurbished and enhanced in memory of beloved Tevya alum Michael Jeser z”l.
We will forever be thankful to all those who supported the campaign and attended. Special thanks to the three organizers: Jeff Greenstein, Jeff Blasbalg, and Matt Brand.
Transcripts of the speeches
I want to introduce some members of our family and a few friends who have joined this most special occasion.
Michael’s 1st Cousins – Reuven Dashevsky, and Aviva Jezer and her husband Dr. Jeff Rothschild.
Friends Steven Passerman and daughter Tony Passerman. Steve and his late wife, Harriet z’l, were from Lewiston, ME, where Michael was born and were our closest friends. Tony, was one of Michael’s babysitters.
Sol and Linda Rockenmacher, from Bedford, NH, close friends of Shelly Shapiro.
David and Patty Rosenzweig, also from Bedford, NH. David was my college roommate, and to this day, one of my closest friends. David was Michael’s Sondek at his Brit Milah, and took the iconic picture that was used as Michael’s birth announcement.
Our middle son, Dave, and his wife Lisa, and their kids, Eli & Chloe.
Laura and Eleanore, two of the loves of Michael’s life. The Jeser family will forever be thankful to Laura for the seven wonderful years she spent with Michael, and especially for the last four, during Michael’s sickness, when she took care of him and cared for every need. It is our hope that Eleanore will, in the near future, also attend Tevya and play on the Michael Jeser Bog Field.
And, last, but not least, the person who made all of this possible, and who has put up with me for 55 years, my wife, a true Eshet Chayil, Faye.
On behalf of the Jeser family, there are a few people that we want to express our sincerest appreciation to – people who had significant effect on Michael’s life and legacy – and made today possible.
Eli & Bessie Cohen Camps:
Jonathan Cohen, President
Etahn Cohen, Chair
Barbara Stevens, Director of Development
Camp Tevya – I know how busy you are and so greatly appreciated your efforts and support:
Ben Portnoy, Director
Lauren Fishman, Assistant Director
And, Phil Drasner, Head Counselor during Michael’s time at Tevya, who traveled from California to join us.
And, with the deepest level of appreciation, the Michael Jeser Dedication Committee, and three of Michael’s best friends, Matt Brand, Jeff Blasbalg, and Jeff Greenstein. We can never thank you enough for what you did in Michael’s memory.
Now, some thoughts.
Jewish sleep-away camping has always been a major part of the Jeser family lives. My father went to Camp CEJWIN over 80 years ago. I went to CEJWIN and then spend 10 years at Camp Columbia where I ended up being Head of the Waterfront and Assistant Director. Our oldest son, Marc, went to CEJWIN and Camp Ramah. His four kids all went to Tevya – the youngest, Gigi will be attending Tevya this summer. Dave went to Tevya – until he didn’t – and his daughter, Chloe, will be attending this year. And then there was Michael.
There is no way we can really describe the impact Tevya had on Michael – and the impact Michael, who started attending at the age of eight, had on Tevya, other than to say that the two-way love affair impacted hundreds, if not thousands of people, and was the foundation on which Michael’s professional career, as a member of the Jewish Communal Service, was built.
Michael lived from summer to summer – camp was everything to him. It was one of his happy places. Michael’s name, and Camp Tevya, will forever be linked, and there is no better legacy.
Let me share an excerpt from the letter Laura received from Israel’s President, Isaac ‘Bougie’ Herzog, who spent time with Michael in San Diego, just before he, ‘Bougie,’ was elected President: “Dear Laura, The time I spent with Michael in San Diego afforded me insight into this fine person, a man so deeply connected to his family heritage and Jewish roots, a man of great skill, passion and commitment. Michael was a leader with an infectious smile and a broad neshama. Though nothing can fill the painful void of a loss of a husband and a father, please know that you and Eleanore are in our heart. May you find the strength to endure this period of great pain, and may you find comfort in the lifetime of memories you shared.”
Isaac Herzog, President, State of Israel
הזיכרון של מייקל, בוודאות, לנצח יהיה ברכה
Michael’s memory, will, for sure, forever be a blessing.
To all of you here, and to all those who have supported the Camp Tevya Michael Jeser Bog Field, Todah Rabah and Shabbat Shalom.
Wow. I really can’t believe this day is here. Besides the obvious gratitude I have in this project being actualized, this amazing, refurbished baseball field being here… there’s this part of me that definitely aches this project exists. Because just literally shy of one year ago – June 29th – Jeff Greenstein, Jeff Blasbalg and Dave Fishman made a very special trip to San Diego to visit Michael, one last time – for the boys to see him and for the camp friends to be together. And there, in our living room, as Michael’s body grew weaker, his spirit shined brighter that his Tevya brothers were with him … they discussed projects and possibilities on what could be accomplished in Michael’s honor, here at Tevya.
They laughed and joked; it was all a little tongue and cheek – but it meant everything to Michael. And now he’s gone and the Michael Jeser Bog Field is here. It’s a bit surreal, heartbreaking and absolutely one of the most amazing days, if not weekends, since he’s been gone.
But I guess that’s just it – why this field is here – why I look out to see so many loving faces and so many people who came out today, from all over – because Michael isn’t gone. Michael is so presently here – in our hearts, in spirit, in the love that radiates now in this moment and within this field – a field that will cement his legacy at a place he loved so very, very much.
I think it should be mentioned that I’m not a camp girl. I didn’t do camp growing up. I wasn’t aware camp was such a “thing,” such an entity. Then I met Michael – and learned it was pretty much EVERYTHING. As our relationship grew, as talk of children and our future lives were discussed – Michael was very adamant that I was to understand our children would go to camp. Maybe it’s because Michael probably began practicing the mechanics of child making here.
But to such talk I would smirk and gave that kind of half nod we give to our partners to appease them… but Michael knew I was not into the idea – it was clear we were living on the West Coast and he’d be out of his mind if he thought I’d send my child across the nation just for camp. Sure, I knew his amazingly awesome friends from camp and adored them, always knowing they’re a special group – but hey – you make friends and he was lucky to have made such special ones at camp growing up….
Even as I witnessed our nephews, then nieces, travel from Las Vegas to Tevya, coming back full of adoration for this foreign place in my eyes – I was not buying in. I’d commiserate with my sister-in-law, Lisa – also foreign to this camp culture – that NEVER in a million years would we EVER send our kids across the country.
Then Eleanore was born. As you all know Michael’s initial cancer diagnosis followed soon thereafter. And in his remission, when Eleanore was two and a half years old and we had our first and now only real family vacation – when Michael was healthy – Michael wanted to come here, to New England – to see his Tevya buddies and to come to this camp. Michael was always trying to make his way back to Tevya. He couldn’t wait to introduce us both to his favorite place in the whole world. He even said in his Facebook post “nothing better than introducing your daughter and wife to the greatest place on earth!”
And when we got here, I got it immediately. Besides the obvious lush oasis that is Lake Potanipo, I “got” it in Michael’s spirit, in his joy, in his peace and in his resounding happiness. All at once I knew – I knew, as sure as I knew Michael was my bashert, that Eleanore will one day come to camp here. I understood, saw and felt what Camp Tevya meant to Michael, his memories – his cherished experiences, his best friends and soul brothers and sisters … and by far the best moments of his life (of course before meeting me 😉 )
And while that is a huge reflection of who you are all and what Camp Tevya really embodies – I know a lot of that is who Michael was and will always be to this camp, campers and alumni too. Michael has left a mark of love on Tevya and his love for Tevya on others – such as my niece, Gigi who will be returning for her 8th year as camper, and our niece Chloe – whose mother, Lisa, was the one who said she’d never send her children across country – well, Chloe is starting her first year as a Tevya camper on Wednesday. And obviously Eleanore when she’s old enough to attend in a few years.
You have provided this space where Eleanore will see and feel her father, his legacy and his love every time she comes out here to hit her own one out past the tennis courts one day. We can tangibly see it here, in this dedication and culmination of the Michael Jeser Bog Field. Michael was always trying to find his way back to Tevya – and now his legacy lives on here forever, a piece of him will always be here.
I am so grateful to all of you, for your support your love and your contribution of the Michael Jeser Bog Field. To the entire Tevya staff – especially Barb Stevens, Lauren Fishman and Ben Portnoy, for your enthusiasm and encouragement of this project. To Jeff Blasbalg, Matt Brand and Greenie for your labor of absolute and sheer love – there are no words, I am grateful to you forever and ever. Thank you, all of you, for bringing Michael’s biggest dream, of finding his way back to Tevya, to fruition.
We want to thank Ben, Lauren, Barb Stevens, and Jonathan Cohen for helping us make this happen. About one year ago, we came up with the idea for this field and it is very gratifying to have made it happen so quickly. I also want to thank all the alums who helped support this cause. Every person that Jeff, Matty & I contacted to donate gave without hesitation.
Michael often said if it doesn’t kill me the first time, it’s worth trying again. I specifically remember this when he showed me how to light a fart on fire. In any case, this zeal and spirit for life is a quality that attracted people to Michael as long as I can remember.
Michael and I met at Tevya in the summer of 1986. To be honest I am not sure how we became such close friends as most of our interests didn’t overlap. Mike was a ladies’ man; I was not. Mike was an athlete; I am not. It is fitting that this field is named for a person who dominated it so much. It is equally ironic that I worked on this project as there is no one who spent less time on this field than I.
And still we found a bond. I suppose I looked up to Mike’s outwardly gregarious and friendly personality. Every summer on staff new counselors would show up not knowing anyone. I remember thinking I don’t want to hang out with any of these people while Michael would talk to each any and every person at orientation.
Truth be told, his motives were not that pure, he was far more interested in befriending new female staff. I am sure some of today’s attendees will attest to this. Nonetheless, I would encourage any staff here to listen carefully. Grab someone new for a day off or a night out, you will be pleasantly surprised.
There are so many stories to tell about our years together here, but as a family friendly event decorum precludes most of them. Furthermore, I wouldn’t want to speak ill of the deceased. I wouldn’t, for example, tell you that despite all his positive qualities Michael was easily one of the dirtiest campers in the history of Tevya; I believe his Bunk 3 saying was, “I already showered this week.” And I certainly wouldn’t tell you who a curious camper could consult to hear about (or maybe even see) an accurate description of female anatomy; Dave & Marc you taught your brother well. No, those are stories for another time.
Those of you who went here know and I hope those who didn’t can tell how special this place is and the deep bonds it creates. For that reason, I think that of all the things that have been and will be done to memorialize Michael, this field would mean the most to him.
In the age of COVID, only a naming of the Jeser Bog field would cause legitimate concern over too big of a crowd. I believe it is considered one of the greatest mitzvahs to do something for the deceased because they have no way to repay you. Although I despise the reason for this field, I am extremely proud of what the Tevya community has done to honor my friend.