Karen Feuer still remembers the day she heard the news about the end of Camp Boiberik. In the fall of 1979, before what would have been her last summer there, a letter arrived at her home announcing that due to financial troubles, the camp was shutting down.
Last weekend, thanks to several intrepid organizers and the vast connecting power of the Internet, Feuer got to reminisce on the grounds of the camp itself, along with several generations of campers from around the world who had come to a reunion. In all, 450 people made the trek to Rhinebeck, NY, after months of planning conducted on a special e-mail discussion group.
"As soon as you got past looking at people and saying 'Wow, they don't look like they did 19 years ago,' you were sort of brought back to that environment," she said. "Everything feels very much the same."
Michael Golub felt that way a year ago when he visited the campsite, now home to the New Age retreat the Omega Institute. He was moved by his vivid memories and how they came to life amid the trees -- which have grown significantly since his tenure as a camper thirty years ago.
"I decided then and there that I wanted to bring the Boiberik community together on those grounds, one more time," he said.
He also knew that organizing such an event wouldn't be easy, even with the help of two former campers. Having watched his wife organize her own camp reunion four years earlier, without any help from the Internet, Golub felt a Web site would make the task much easier. Golub approached former camper Mitchel Resnick -- now a faculty member at MIT's Media Lab -- who agreed to create both the site and an online mailing list.
Almost immediately, traffic was high. While many people have fond memories of childhood summers, so-called "Boiberikaner," as camp alumns refer to themselves, say they shared a particularly special experience. From its beginnings in 1922, Camp Boiberik was a place where people felt strong connections: to their Jewish roots, and to each other. The camp's abrupt closing in 1979 left not just current campers like Feuer, but alumns, who returned for visits long after their tenure, feeling adrift.
"If you looked up 'extended family' in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Boiberikaner," said Mark Steinberg, who was a camper in the early seventies. "I never felt so loved. My dearest friendships were formed at the camp, many of which still exist today. It shaped my greatest memories."
Nettie Spiwak, who was a camper during the summers of 1967 through 1971, said she'd been scouring the Internet for several years in search of a Web site like the one she found uniting the Boiberikaner. When a friend told her that someone had created a Boiberik Web site, she was delighted.
"It was the conversation online that made the reunion what it was in many ways," she said. "It gave people three months to establish contact, as a community. Many people said they came because of that."
"I refer to it as the Boiberik diaspora," said Steinberg. "We were little lights spread all around the globe, and there's never been a vehicle to bring the forces of light together. The vehicle by which we were able to reunite was the Internet."
Even a week after the reunion, attendees are thankful that the Internet has given their memories a voice and a shared forum, a place to find old friends and replicate the Boiberikaner atmosphere virtually for future generations.
"Boiberik was one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited," said David Blaiwas, who attended the camp from 1962 to 1965, and then served as a counselor there in the seventies. "All of this came back to me and others when we began exchanging messages on the Internet. Camp was suddenly reopened, and all the e-mails were like the town square. We couldn't see each other, but we felt the circle just the same."
But not even the power of a virtual community could replace the feeling of stomping the old grounds, reliving the Friday night services from the camp's active days, and meeting in person hundreds of others with similar memories.
"I don't think I'll ever be hugged so much in 48 hours again," said Spiwak. "It's amazing to me. We were all in the presence of something incredible."
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