Henry S. Jacobs Camp
URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp is a summer camp run by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), serving the Deep South (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Western Tennessee, and the Florida Panhandle). Since 1970, Jacobs Camp (a.k.a. HSJ) has been providing summertime recreational and cultural activities for Jewish youth. The camp has all sorts of activities and believes in a rough schedule will build stronger youth.
The camp is one of 13 camps owned and operated by the URJ, the organizing body for Reform Judaism in North America. Jacobs is a non-profit camp, affiliated with the Mississippi Camping Association. It is accredited by the American Camp Association.
In 1954, a group of Jewish parents primarily from some small towns of the Mississippi Delta decided that their children should have a Jewish communal experience that they could not receive at home. A summer camp was established where these small-town children could meet each other in a Jewish environment. However, the camp organizer soon realized that they would be unable to raise enough money to build a camp on their own. They contacted Celeste Orkin from Jackson, Mississippi.
Mrs. Orkin was an important leader for the state’s Jewish youth, and she quickly became excited about the prospect of a camp, helping to start the Camp Association of Southern Temples (CAST). Orkin was the driving force behind significant fundraising for the camp's construction, but it was still not enough. She recognized that, despite the leaders’ best efforts, Mississippi Jews alone could not put together the necessary funds, so she called her friend Henry Switzer Jacobs for help. Jacobs was a long-time youth worker, organist and religious school director at Temple Sinai in New Orleans, Louisiana. He quickly got much of the “big city” energy of New Orleans behind the camp idea. In the early 1960s, Jacobs called upon Rudi Scheidt of Memphis, Tennessee for more help. Scheidt, in turn, suggested that the leaders of CAST call Julian Allenberg to galvanize the Memphis community.
In perhaps the most important innovation in making the camp happen, Julian Allenberg developed an idea he called “Fair Share” which called for each congregation in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and West Tennessee to commit to giving an amount of money proportional to the number of families (members) in the congregation—all of it whom, it was felt, stood to benefit from the camp’s existence. The Fair Share System forced the communities to raise the necessary money as well as created community support for the camp. By 1968, the money had been gathered and the land for the camp was purchased.
The property in Utica, Mississippi, was originally purchased for $100,000. Construction began in 1969. The gates of Jacobs Camp officially opened the summer of 1970. Jacobs did not live to see the camp. He died of a nervous system disorder in 1965. In honor of his efforts and memory, the camp was named after him.
In 1970, the camp's first summer, there were 93 campers in two sessions (roughly 30 in Session I and 60 in Session II). The early years featured two units. In 1977 a third unit was added. In 1979 the units were renamed Garin, Maskilim and Talmidim. In addition to naming the units, 1979 featured the first Maskilim Mitzvah Day and the introduction of the first Maskilim cheer ("We are, we are, Maskilim!").
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, some changes were made at the camp. Fitness was also added to the schedule in the late 1970s, and the Berman Center, a gymnasium, was built in 1985. Horseback riding was removed from the activity offerings, and the daily schedule went from six activity blocks to five activity blocks per day. In 1988, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (now part of the Goldring / Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life) was built.
The Olim program was added to Jacobs Camp in 1989, and the Talmidim unit went from two four-week sessions to one six-week session.
After the summer of 1999, Macy Hart (originally from Winona, Mississippi) ended 30 years as Director of Jacobs Camp to focus full-time on running the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi. He was replaced by Jonathan “JC” Cohen (originally from Tupelo, Mississippi), who had been a dedicated camper and counselor at Jacobs in the 1970s and 1980s. The daily schedule and unit set-up were modified a couple of times in 2000, 2001, and 2002 in an effort to improve the specialty programming at Jacobs. For example, the concept of the Talmidim Intensive first appeared in 2000. Also, in 2002 Talmidim went back to being a four-week, regular-session program and entering 10th graders experienced the six-week Chalutzim program for the first time.
Beginning in 2007, Jacobs Camp set out to place itself on the cutting edge of Jewish informal education by fully integrating its Jewish educational program into its recreational offerings through the launch of its Specialty Camp Programs: Sports, Arts, Digital Media, and Adventure Camp.
Chairs of the Jacobs Camp Committee
- Celeste Orkin
- Julian Allenberg
- Jerry Tanenbaum (1972-1982)
- David Grishman (1983-1986)
- Steve Orlansky (1987-1991)
- Earle Schwarz (1991-1997)
- Rich Lewis (1997-2001)
- Larry Orlansky (2001-2003)
- Joel Yuspeh Ashner (2003-2007)
- Louis Good (2007-2011)
- Danny Mansberg (2011-2015)
- Linda Orlansky Posner (2015- present)
- Rabbi Solomon "Sol" Kaplan (1970)
- Macy B. Hart (1971-1999)
- Jonathan "J.C." Cohen (2000-2014)
- Anna Blumenfeld Herman (2015-)
- Earle Schwarz (1976-1978)
- Amy Dover Neistein (1978-1980)
- Patsy Goodman (1981-1983)
- Elizabeth Kaplan Applebaum (1983-1984)
- Linda Orlansky Posner (1984-1986)
- Michele Feldman Schipper (1986-1988)
- Danny Mansberg (1987-1989)
- Jeffrey Rips (1990-1992)
- David Danziger (1992-1995)
- Adam Millman (1995-1997)
- Julius Weiss (1996-1999)
- Michael Danziger (1997-2000)
- Anna Blumenfeld Herman (2000-2003)
- Michael Ruby (2003-2005)
- Abram Orlansky (2005-2009)
- Scott Price (2007-2009)
- Gary Brandt (2009 -2014)
- Sam Pailet (2015)
- Becci Jacobs (2015-2017)
- Adam Orlansky (2015-)
- Ramie Mansberg (2017)
- Sarah Tucker (2017-)