The Arty Semite

Was Rush Limbaugh Right About 'Commie' Camp Kinderland?

By Simi Horwitz

  • Print
  • Share Share

Just because Rush Limbaugh says it’s raining doesn’t mean it’s a sunny day.

Admittedly, his assertion that Camp Kinderland — a summer camp in the Berkshires — is a hotbed of Communist indoctrination doesn’t have much traction in 2013. But consider the camp’s backdrop for sports, music, drama, and arts and crafts. The theater is dubbed The Paul Robeson Playhouse and the athletic center is known as the Roberto Clemente Sports Shack. Bunks bear such iconic names as Harriet Tubman, Joe Hill, Hannah Senesh, and Anne Frank.

In “Commie Camp,” filmmaker Katie Halper, who attended Camp Kinderland, revisits the old stomping grounds to document what it’s like today and to illustrate just what a nitwit Rush Limbaugh is. The problem is that she sometimes proves his point.

Founded in Tolland, Mass., in 1923 by secular Jewish socialists and communists, Camp Kinderland offered a summer respite to the children of poor and working class Jewish immigrants. It was unabashedly leftist and continues to be, though the tone has softened and the issues evolved. Environmentalism, marriage equality, and reproductive rights are among the hot topics today.

Though the camp still pays tribute to its Jewish roots with the teaching of Yiddish songs, Jewish dances, and a yearly Holocaust memorial, multiculturalism has become the byword. Today campers reflect an array of ethnic and religious backgrounds and most are relatively well heeled.

The yearly protocol now centers on a theme — for example, turning discussion into action for world peace — and campers attend classes that address the topic. The summer festivities culminate with a “Peace Olympics,” marrying social activism and athletic competition. Kids compete on the playing field but as members of teams named in honor of various social movements — from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice to Greenpeace.

One of my favorite snippets in the film features a group of camp kids protesting police brutality with placards held high. They are clearly having a wonderful time and admit with giggles they have never attended any rally, but will now know what to do should the situation arise. They are being well schooled.

Yet it feels like playacting, too. Unlike their predecessors who had a survival stake in their politics, those voiced by the camp leaders and campers today often sound more like earnest fashion statements.

The documentary unwittingly raises other thorny issues, not least the practice of encouraging youngsters to voice political opinions that are not their own. They cannot be. A 12-year-old is parroting her parents’ views, or spewing forth what the teacher wants to hear. Kids pick up on the vibes very quickly.

More serious is teaching one-sided interpretations of history and current events. Though one boy admitted he did not share the prevailing politics of the camp, he felt comfortable expressing dissent. But most children who attend seem to emerge from families marching to the same drummer.

For Halper and many alumni the experience was undoubtedly liberating and progressive. But that’s not my take away. In the film Camp Kinderland feels oddly anachronistic and, worse, claustrophobic.

Still, the camp has a certain cultural interest. and credit should be given to Halper for doing a fine job in documenting a worldview that, at moments, unintentionally borders on parody.

Watch the trailer for ‘Commie Camp’:

“Commie Camp” Trailer from katie halper on Vimeo.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simi Horwitz, Rush Limbaugh, Katie Halper, Film, Commie Camp, Documentaries, Camp Kinderland

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.