"Where else would I get to study Shakespeare in Yiddish?" wondered Fran Strickberger as she stood on the dining-room porch of the Poconos vacation retreat, her camp experience in full swing.
"We had no idea what to expect," said Bill Malenbaum of Northeast Philadelphia. "We'd heard good things and decided to give it a try."
His wife, Rita, was so pleased with the experience that she has already approached a friend to go with the couple next year.
While summer camp usually brings to mind kids singing around the campfire, arts and crafts, swimming, and, these days, specialty programs, this camp offered some unusual options for its unusual campers.
For the ninth year, Hazak, the 55-plus segment of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, sponsored a summer camp for a more mature set. Some 118 folks came from nine states, including Arizona and Texas. Campers ranged in age from their mid-50s through their 80s.
Their smiles were framed by a few extra lines and wrinkles. And their hair had a bit more gray. But the mountain setting at Block and Hexter — a vacation retreat in Poyntelle, Pa., — had an unmistakable camp feel.
"It's for us," said Frank Lewinson of Blue Bell, a repeat camper. "We don't feel like outsiders here."
Betsy Lewinson, current Hazak chapter president at Temple Sinai in Dresher, emphatically dispels any misconceptions: "We might be seniors, but don't think of labeling us 'altas,' " she said, using the Yiddish for "oldies." "No rocking chairs here," she added with a smile.
Strickberger, 79, of Yardley, relished being able to swim in the outdoor pool. "I swam laps for 35 to 50 minutes a day."
Along with the usual activities one would expect at camp, this program included a non-stop schedule of educational and spiritual options as well.
Scholars offered classes in the fields of education, Israel, Jewish literature and music.
"There was always too much to do, too many choices," said Evelyn Snyder of Plymouth Meeting. "We missed out on things because we were doing something else."
Throughout the week, Rabbi Moshe Edelman led daily morning, afternoon and evening services. The associate director of the Metropolitan New York district of the USCJ, "Reb Moshe" served as spiritual leader, friend and mentor to the campers.
Malenbaum, 81, said he appreciated the rabbi's openness. "He was so haimische, so approachable."
As the campers gathered together for the final time, the rabbi pointed toward the tranquil lake, surrounded by a perfectly manicured landscape.
"I have no doubt that Hashem is out there and has been with us the whole time," he said, referring to God.