Throughout Camp Tavor’s history, counselors and executive directors have come and gone, campsites have changed, enrollment at camp has dropped and risen with the changing tides of Judaism in the Midwest, but Camp Tavor (and its parent camps) have stood the test of time. Tavor’s unique structure and values system, paired with the dedication of its counselors and campers, have created a camp and culture that is endlessly new, relevant, and appealing. It is so interwoven with the fabric of Jewish life and culture in the Midwest that Tavor recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Tavor hosted a 60th reunion extravaganza, during which over 350 members of Tavor’s community came together to celebrate camp and the undeniable influence camp has had on their lives. Campers, counselors, directors, and community members from every Tavor ‘generation’ were in attendance and travelled to Tavor from all over North America and the world to share in the living history of Tavor.
The video “This Land”, created by Tavor alumni, premiered at the 60th reunion. Check out the video to learn about Tavor’s rich and fascinating history and hear alumni reflect on the incredible impact that Tavor has had on their lives. Make sure to read the historical narrative below the video as well to learn about the wider history of Tavor and the camps that camp before it.
Before the Tavor we all know and love, there were a number of other Habonim camps created in the midwest. The first was Camp Tel Chai. Founded by Chicago Habonim members in New Buffalo, MI, Tel Chai was destroyed by fire in 1944. From 1945 to 1947, Habonim camp was conducted on a rented site in Savannah, IL. From 1948 to 1954, camp was held at Yad Ari near Waupaca, WI. In 1939, Detroit Habonim chevre established Camp Kinneret near Chelsea, MI, which closed after the summer of 1955. In 1947, Cincinnati and St. Louis Habonim combined to create camp Tel Natan in Missouri, which closed after the summer of 1948. These early Habonim campsites were fairly rustic compared to our current facilities, but provided a critical foundation upon which we could build our current movement.
In 1956, after the closing of the Midwest Habonim camps Yad Ari and Kinneret, the land that would later house Camp Tavor was purchased for $62,000. Formerly a Jewish summer resort known as Coopers Retreat, the new property extended for 68 acres next to Kaiser Lake near Three Rivers, MI, and was intended to be the permanent home Midwest Habonim camping. Two cabins were built immediately, giving the site a capacity of 75 children. It opened under the name Midwest Camp Habonim and in 1964, assumed the name we are now familiar with: Camp Tavor.
Camper enrollment at Tavor and the other Habonim camps across North America has fluctuated greatly over time. The peak year of North American Habonim camping was 1946. There were 2000 campers across 11 North American Habonim camps. In 2007 there were about 1,500 campers enrolled in the seven Habonim Dror camps across North America.
After the Six Day War in 1967, there was an increased interest in Tavor and Habonim. Camp enrollment swelled to a high of 200 campers each session in 1971. Unfortunately, through the 80s and 90s camper enrollment declined with as few as 50 campers registered for some sessions. Tavor managed to sustain itself through this period of declining enrollment and in the mid 1990s enrollment began to grow again. The summer of 1993 saw the start of many of the programs that still exist to this day: the Chalutzim program (for campers entering 3rd – 5th grade), and the Madatz (leadership training program) replaced KMBet.
Camp Tavor has always drawn campers from all across the midwest. Historically, campers came from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, Winnipeg. Today, the majority of Tavor campers come from Ann Arbor, the Detroit area, Kalamazoo, the Chicago area, Madison and Milwaukee, as well as a number of campers from areas outside the Midwest.