CAMP KVUTZA IS BORN

The last days of August, 1932 ... The first Young Poale Zion Kvutza is winding up its four-week session at Unser Camp, Farband summer colony at Highland Mills, New York. The closing hours are devoted to evaluation and self-criticism. The fourteen pioneers have been together for a full month and have valiantly tried to imbibe three lecture and discussion periods a day, with two or three lectures in each period. The haverim have learned much and have had a lot of fun, too. Life in the big tent has been most congenial, yet everyone feels that something was missing . . . Unser Camp offered too many comforts and too many distractions. Somehow, it was a camp and not a Kvutza, it wasn't our own, the product of our own labors, efforts, and ingenuity. We were guests and not creators ... Next year we must have a real Kvutza, no matter what the difficulties, and the more primitive the better! Next year we must learn not only theory but also how to provide for ourselves.

Mid-June, 1933 ... Summer is knocking at the door and still no Kvutza site. We are getting panicky. Suddenly, and from an unexpected quarter, an undreamed of opportunity. A bavera in California met Golda Meir and told her of a sister in New York who is part-owner of some land in the Catskill Mountains. The sister would like to do something for "the Jewish people." For lack of a more speciflc address, we accept this bid as meaning us. A series of interviews, enthusiasm waxes high ...

Finally one morning we are off to the Catskills: Accord, Granite, Kerhonkson-never beard of the places. Three hours, four hours, we have lost our way a half-dozen times, but the country gets more and more beautiful as the road becomes steeper and the hairpin curves sharper. Soon there is no highway at all, only a deep-rutted, bumpy, dusty, farmers' dirt road into a wilderness. Our hearts sink, spirits flag.

A few more minutes and we find ourselves on the summit of a hill, a beautiful valley below, and in the near distance, a ring of mountains that seems to change color before your eyes. A singing brook cascades over the rock ledges forming crystal pools every few hundred feet-and on "our" land! We are filled with joy at the sight of all this beauty, but also with sadness when we see how the land lies waste and neglected-grass and weeds waist-high, the earth is parched, no house (it burned down when the place was abandoned seven years before). There is only an indescribable shack occupied by our benefactress and her partner in the summer . . .

The next day, back in the city, a meeting of the National Executive is hastily convened. This is the place, the answer to our prayers. Far? What of it? Wild? We've got a job to do. No shelter? We'll build our own. No money? We'll beg, we'll borrow, we'll owe . . .

Feverish days and nights . . . So much to do . . . Raise money, get lumber ... We need a car ... Ten haverim want to build a dining room and platforms for the tents . . . What will they eat? Who will cook for them? ... Buy tents, cots . . . Can you borrow dishes, silverware? . . . How are registrations coming? . . . Haven't heard from Buffalo . . . Two coming from Rochester . . . Persuade some Pioneer Women to come out as "cookies." . . . And how about the program? . . . And how about discussion leaders? ... Time is short-so short! A matter of days now .

And through it all, a glorious tingle in the blood we are building our own Kvutza!

Yes, really building! . . . Who can forget the day when the big truck came rumbling across the wooden bridge to unload the first $400 worth of lumber . . . All right now, here is what we have to do. Clear the site on top of the hill. Here, lay it out cross-wise so that the kitchen part will come right over the spring. Take advantage as much as we can of the cement floor of the burnt-down barn. We've got to finish the kitchen first. Over the dining room we can stretch canvas if necessary. Here, we will build platforms for the tents . . . There, down below, the outhouse.

Thursday noon. The Kvutza is scheduled to open Sunday, and it seems as if everything is still to be done. Every hour brings one or two more haverim. By nightfall, the original number of the work group is more than doubled. Friday all day they come trekking in. The cookies become more and more exasperated as the number of mouths to feed increases, and the old farmer's stove bought for $4 refuses to get fired. Nerves are on edge . . . Everyone is working against time . . . Every newcomer is pressed into service as soon as he has a bite to eat ... But the cookies work hardest of all.

In the meantime, miracles have been happening. The seven-year growth of grass and weeds has been cut. The single pyramid tent that had housed the work crew is now joined by three others. They form a thrilling silhouette against the sky. The long tables in the dining room are scrubbed clean, set with dishes and silverware, and decked with flowers, ready for the first Shabbat in our own Kvutza. In the deepening twilight, twenty-four of us, scrubbed clean at the brook and dressed in our "best," sit down to break bread together. The Shabbat, our sages tell us, should be received with rejoicing. We fulfilled the mitzva with overflowing hearts.

Jacob Katzman, 1942