VERONA — The oldest day camp in Dane County, Camp Shalom is rooted in long-standing traditions and practices that have led to its institutional status.
It starts with the name of the camp, a Hebrew word for peace.
“This is really the epitome of what peace is,” said Ellen Weismer, Camp Shalom director, about the camp started in 1954. “The whole idea of camp is to make it a fun and safe place for everyone.”
She said the summer camp for kindergarten through ninth-graders attracts youth of different races, backgrounds and religions from areas across Dane County. It accommodates children with disabilities and awards scholarships with the goal of never having to turn away anyone due to finances. This year saw the greatest scholarship need, but fundraising allowed the camp to award $115,000 in scholarships, she said.
The camp is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Madison and located at the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus in Verona.
The camp embraces its religious affiliation by observing the Jewish ritual of Shabbat every Friday. Some of the challah bread is made by campers who also take turns helping prepare for the candle lighting. At other times the campers learn about the Jewish religion and culture. Activities and places at the camp are identified with Hebrew words.
Campers also take part in a variety of traditional camp activities and special events, and swim every day in the pool on the camp’s grounds.
Norah Feinberg, who will be a fourth-grader at Sauk Trail Elementary in Middleton, said she likes going to Camp Shalom because she is Jewish and likes observing Shabbat. Weismer said that also is a favorite time for many campers because it provides a way to connect.
Another Camp Shalom hallmark is attracting campers year after year and then turning them into counselors.
Camp Shalom is for campers going into grades K-5 and Camp Shalom Noar-Bogrim is for campers going into grades 6-9. The two together serve more than 1,000 youth throughout the summer, making it the largest day camp in the county.
After their freshman year, some former campers volunteer for a year in the “counselor-in-training” program and then become paid employees the next summer.
Jacques Frank-Loron, a 2017 graduate of Verona High School, said as an elementary student he would pretend to be a counselor as he walked around camp with a clipboard. After the fun he had at camp he saw becoming a counselor as the next step.
Morris Kodesh, who will be a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary, said he gets attached to the counselors, so it’s tough when they leave. But he always meets new ones he likes.
With her start as a kindergarten camper and her embrace of the camp’s philosophy, Hannah Ehrlich, a 2017 West High School graduate, reflects Camp Shalom’s mission.
She has fond memories of the connections she made coming to camp every summer and now tries to help make happy memories for new campers.
“Working through (campers’ individual issues) and helping them have a better day is really rewarding,” said Ehrlich, who was wearing a Camp Shalom 60th anniversary T-shirt from her first year as a counselor. “It’s up to us to make it fun for them.”