Shortly before I came to America, I attended a convention of a Zionist scouting organization with which I had been affiliated. It was held in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. I saw then what such a camping experience can mean in the development of the spirit, ideology, and leadership of a youth movement. The lingering memories found their expression when in America I became a member of the Central Committee of the Young Poale Zion Alliance. Many of us began to think in terms of making of the Labor Zionist youth movement a youth movement in fact, something other than a mere replica of the senior Poale Zion. One of the first media that came to mind was the establishment of a YPZA summer camp similar to the one I had seen in Galicia.
Other members of the YPZA Central Committee were like-minded. Berl Locker, then National Secretary of the Poale Zion, enthusiastically accepted the idea. But most of the other leading haverim of the senior organizations were skeptical and some were even opposed. The reasons were: one, the lack of funds; and two, the insistence that inasmuch as the movement already has a children's camp, Kinderwelt, YPZA should utilize that in every way possible.
In the summer of 1932, we decided to make an experimental beginning in Unser Camp. Sophie Udin assumed the leadership, and while all who participated gained considerably in their knowledge of Labor Zionism and techniques of leadership, it was generally felt that the real spirit of a Kvutza, of a place that one built with one's own hands, in which one labored and which was governed by its own members, was lacking.
The following winter and spring, therefore, strenuous efforts were made to obtain a campsite of our own. With the help of Golda Meir, the use of a beautiful spot in the Catskills was gotten. Jacob Katzman, who was then National Secretary of the YPZA and directed our first Kvutza at Accord, has already related the story of its birth elsewhere in this -volume. But Katzman had to leave in the middle of the season to help prepare the forthcoming YPZA national convention, and upon his insistence and that of our Central Committee, I took over for the remaining period.
I found the campers a most heterogeneous group. Among them were some of the best members of the YPZA from several communities, young people with organizational tradition, with leadership abilities, and a fine Jewish background. However, we also had some newcomers who could not even pronounce the name of the organization. One of the four tents consisted of ten boys from Orange, New Jersey, to most of whom, camping and the Young Poale Zion were quite alien as yet. They came because after all, the tuition was only $7 a week and where could one get such a bargain even during the Depression?
Under those circumstances, it was very hard to improvise a program to keep the campers busy, to mold a cohesive group, and to institute self-rule and discipline. To this day I don't know how it happened, but we succeeded in instilling the proper spirit of cooperation and a form of self-government.
The first few weeks were the hardest. I bad to conduct all the discussion groups and Shabbat programs, supervise all the camping activities, and assign work for the daily work crews, whose task it was to bring some modicum of civilization to this wilderness, keep the grounds clean, provide wood for the stove, carry water from the well, and a multitude of other jobs, including K.P. The first substantial help came with the arrival of Mr. Margolin, a Hebrew teacher, who immediately instituted a program of Hebrew, Jewish history, and geography of Eretz Yisrael.
Little by little, our senior haverim started to look upon the camp as something worthwhile. First of all, Meyer Brown and Shmuel Siegel, who came to visit their families, brought back to the city good reports of what was going on in Accord. Of inestimable value in this respect were the several days which Golda Meir spent with us. Her discussions on halutziut were inspiring to the campers, but her report to the senior movement was of even greater importance in bringing Camp Kvutza to its attention.
The camp reached its maturity when we instituted the forms of "self-government." Representatives to a camp council were elected by all the campers. The council took its task seriously. Work was assigned judiciously and without favoritism. Everyone, without exception, had to participate in K.P., which, under those primitive circumstances (without a heater for hot water), was quite a chore, help police the cleanliness of the grounds and tents, and share in whatever manual labor was required. The council proved its effectiveness by seeing to it that once a task was undertaken, a program mapped out, a decision arrived at, they were carried out in a responsible fashion. During that time, we even had the whole camp sit in judgment of a camper who broke discipline and left camp without permission to go to a dance in a nearby hotel.
The age range of the first season in Accord was probab1y older than any of the subsequent seasons. There was quite a large proportion of haverim who had completed their preparatory training and were awaiting aliya certificates.
The first Accord Kvutza was also rich in adventures. There is a limit to the punishment which even a secondhand army tent can take from the elements, so it was not surprising when occasionally a tent was blown down. This was taken in stride. But one stormy late afternoon, when the velocity of the wind was of hurricane proportion and the rain came down in sheets, the camp found itself without a single tent standing and without a place for the campers to sleep. If ever the spirit of the camp was manifest, it was during this emergency. All the campers, with the exception of a few, were transferred to a nearby hotel. By the time the exodus began, the brook had overflowed its bank and the water covered the bridge. The taller and older haverim had to carry the younger ones, especially the haverot, on their backs to the other side. The few that remained on the camp grounds tried as best they could to sleep on the tables in the dining room. However, the roof leaked, and no matter which way one turned, he got wet. But this did not diminish the spirit of those who remained behind.
One vividly recalls the morning after-the sky was overcast, our clothing was soaked, and we were all sleepy, wet, and cold to the marrow. We emerged from the dining room and began a snake dance to the tune of Chopin's Funeral March. As soon as the sun came out, the tents were put up again, the cots and all the possessions of the campers were put out to dry. The advice of the good people around to break up camp was not heeded. In retrospect, this experience became a highlight of that camping season.
One would like to characterize some of the campers but that would take too much space and would be unfair to those not mentioned. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that more campers of this first group went to Eretz Yisrael than of any other group since. Many have made their mark in Eretz Yisrael as halutzim and leaders in the Labor Movement.
Mention should be made of the contribution to the camping experience of Rachel Siegel and Leah Brown, our cooks, who not only saw to it that the food was adequate and wholesome, but by their presence, lent dignity to the camp and helped to establish the reliability of Camp Kvutza in the minds of our senior haverim.
The first season of Accord was the proving ground for the concept of a camp run by youth for youth. It pointed the way toward self-discipline and self-government, and it proved that a camp of this kind lends itself to the pursuit of serious study of the ideology, history, and problems of the organization, while giving the campers a practical demonstration of communal living.
The basic idea of the camp was that no member of the staff was paid or received any other special consideration outside of the authority deserved for good leadership. It was most gratifying when months after the close of the first season, participants got together to evaluate their achievements and to speak of their experience with a yearning and nostalgia of summer months well spent.
Most of the campers attended the Young Poale Zion convention in Philadelphia, held immediately after the close of the season on the Labor Day weekend. It was mainly due to their stand and influence that this convention decided upon the reorganization of the Young Poale Zion, to introduce tzofiut, and to lay the groundwork for what later became Habonim.
Jacob Lemberger, 1957