The Jewish Community Center of Princeton Mercer Bucks has inked a 15-plus year lease to rent the site of the former Cedarville Country Day Camp, a nondenominational day camp in East Windsor, owned by real estate developer Bernard Burkhoff.
JCC president Daniel Herscovici said, “We have not only the right of first refusal but we have a very strong strategic partner in Bernie Burkhoff and the Burkhoff family.”
Since the JCC in Ewing closed — after its Abrams Day Camp’s 2006 summer season — the camp and other JCC programs have met in different venues, including Rider University and, more recently, the Windsor Athletic Club in West Windsor, on the site of what had been envisioned as a 50-acre Jewish community campus.
The campus project was shelved in October 2013, and the JCC rented space in the facility that had been built on the site from Matt and Staci Wilson, major backers who took ownership of the property in lieu of foreclosure, and, over the last year, from its new owners, who purchased the site from the Wilsons.
Starting in 2014, the JCC has been looking for a more permanent location, particularly for the day camp.
“We turned over every rock and really tried to find something that is not only an ideal location but a permanent home, one that we could make into everything we wanted a JCC camp to be,” Herscovici said.
They learned about the new site from members of the Jewish community who had great memories of attending Cedarville Country Day Camp. Although it was not listed for rent or for sale, they made a cold call and struck gold.
“When Mr. Burkhoff realized who we were, he was excited to talk to us,” Herscovici said.
Burkhoff, who is Jewish, decided to lease the facility to the JCC organization, leading to the closing of the Cedarville Country Day Camp, which had operated there for 40 years.
Wendy Soos, director of the Abrams Camps, said that several conversations back and forth between Burkhoff and the JCC revealed they shared a “strong belief “ in Jewish camping. Burkhoff, she said, “realized that the JCC serves as a connector and a relationship builder to other Jewish organizations and agencies within the community.”
In addition, Herscovici said, they and Burkhoff discussed the idea that for Jewish youngsters, Jewish camp is “the only Jewish experience many of these children have…and that really resonated with him.”
Burkhoff’s interest only increased, Soos said, when he learned that the JCC camp draws children from affiliated and unaffiliated families.
In fact, said Soos, she hopes “the Cedarville families are going to join our camp, and we welcome all families of all denominations regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.”
“We’re a Jewish camp, but we’re an inclusive camp,” she said, adding that Abrams is also welcoming applications from former Cedarville employees to join the staff of the JCC camp.
In recent years, the JCC Abrams Camp took place on the grounds outside the Windsor Athletic Club, which is primarily open fields, with mobile trailers and teepees brought in. It used the club’s indoor pool and gymnasium.
The new camp site, located off Route 195 in East Windsor, includes three outdoor pools; a pavilion, barn, and recreation center for rainy-day activities and cool-down periods; and upgraded athletic fields. Herscovici said that the new location is only 10 minutes away from the West Windsor site, so none of campers who are already registered will be traveling more than 35 or 40 minutes.
The location will also open access to Monroe in Middlesex County and Marlboro, Freehold, and Howell in Monmouth County. “It is a community that we have never really interacted with,” Herscovici said.
Soos added that some synagogues have already called from these places expressing their excitement about the new location. In fact, she added, one of the tag lines on the camp’s new promotional material is “Now serving more familes in more suburbs.”
The camp has three divisions: a day camp for pre-K through fourth grade; Alufim, a tween travel camp that is at the site two days a week and travels three days a week; and a teen travel camp, for seventh- through ninth-graders who travel five days a week. The combined camps have been attracting about 300 campers, but the new space can accommodate between 450 and 500 campers above and beyond the teen travel camp. Cedarville had about 110 campers last year.
The JCC has been running other programs at the Windsor Athletic Club and other sites. Its senior program, Golden Agers, meets at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville weekly, serving over 40 people. Family programs have met at the athletic club, including a new teen club for sixth-through ninth-graders; a men’s softball league with eight teams, one from the JCC and the rest from area synagogues; and community programs like a Jewish children’s authors and family fun day.
According to Soos, a farm house on the site is being converted and winterized for use as offices and program space by the JCC year-round, and plans include the building of an outdoor “campitheater” and a Gaga stadium; the addition of more parking; and improved fencing, landscaping, signage, and branding.
Funding is in place from the Abrams Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, and private donors.
“Finally we have a break,” Soos said. “We’ve been traveling Jews for some time. It’s important because we represent more than 180 families — just in our camp — and 50 percent of them are unaffiliated.”