A Remnant of Personal History
2018 Update: When I posted these photographs in 2016 I had no idea what would happen. These photographs have inspired former campers at Cejwin to share their experiences in the comments. This post has gone from being about photography to being a community. If you are here to see my work, also read the comments so you can see how that these simple dilapidated buildings profoundly impacted the lives of the people who came to this camp. There are experiences shared below from the 1940’s through the 90’s when the camp closed its doors.
We recently visited what is left of Cejwin Camps in Port Jervis, New York. The camp was founded in 1918 to provide a summer in nature and fresh air for New York City’s Jewish children. The camp, like all summer camps, provided an opportunity for kids to bond, have fun, and maybe learn something they could take into adulthood that would be useful. Its location in rural New York, just 90 minutes from Manhattan, allowed Cejwin to thrive and open seven camps to serve around 1000 kids.
Until recent generations, parents thought it was important for their kids to spend time outdoors in the natural world. That has changed along with what people choose to do with their summers. Cejwin fell victim to those changes and closed its doors in the 1990’s. After Cejwin, a Christian group took over and established a camp there for a few years. Now most of the camp property is being developed into housing. When we were there, only one of the boys camps, Aviv, was accessible.
This photo shoot was very personal. My wife spent 10 years at Cejwin Camps as a kid and has many happy memories. I’ve seen old black and white photos of her as a goofy, giggly teenager fooling around with her bunk mates. These somewhat out of focus antics of a bunch of 14 year-olds document experiences that helped shape the mature and intelligent person my wife is today. This place is so much a part of her past that being at Cejwin and photographing what remains of it was quite a powerful experience for both of us.
These simple structures were full of children being children. My wife has many fond memories of what camp professionals would call “Cabin Life.” She remembers activities at camp, but really remembers what happened in these little buildings where, as she has said, she could just be herself.