URJ Kutz Camp, located in Warwick, New York, is the summer home to NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement and progressive Jewish teens worldwide. When Hattie and Milton Kutz gifted $100,000 of their estate toward the creation of a Reform Movement leadership training summer program for teens, the impact of their vision likely could not have been imagined. Tens of thousands of people, both young and young at heart, including many of the most influential professional and volunteer leaders in the Reform Movement, are products of the URJ Kutz Camp. Philanthropist Laura Lauder, Rabbi Daniel Freelander, Cantor Jeffrey Klepper, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, veteran URJ Greene Family Camp Executive Director Loui Dobin and Daryl Messinger (URJ Board Chair – elect) are all alumni of Kutz Camp. Fifty summers after opening the gates at 46 Bowen Road in Warwick, New York, Kutz has secured its place as the flagship center of youth experiences for Reform Judaism.
Since the first group of teens arrived at Kutz in 1965, many of the issues most relevant to the Reform movement and her young people have been central to the thinking, debating, and learning that have occurred between young leaders and adults during their Kutz stays. Iconic photos throughout camp capture the spirit and passion of the Movement’s young people speaking up and out, as well as making NFTY policy around issues of the day, including the Vietnam War, Soviet Jewry, AIDS, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, inclusion of people with disabilities, and bullying.
The origins of modern Jewish music can also be traced back to Kutz Camp.
Singer/Songwriter Debbie Friedman z’l was the Kutz song leader in 1969 and in 1972 she spent time at camp teaching new songs she had written for what would become her first album, Sing Unto God. Friedman created a new genre of Jewish music that democratized prayer by including both Hebrew and English that was meant for the community to sing together. Influenced by those like Pete Seeger and Peter Yarrow, Debbie infused meaning into singing together and gave us moments that echo to this day. Debbie and her music were created at Jewish summer camp, and she, in turn, created Jewish summer camp. The magic achieved at camp through Debbie’s music and song leading soon poured out of camps around the country and into virtually every liberal synagogue today. The first NFTY Chordster, a book of guitar chords, and the five NFTY record albums, originated at Kutz.
The Kutz community will celebrate their golden anniversary during Kutz@50, a reunion event over the upcoming July 4th weekend with hundreds of alumni and friends returning to camp for the two-day celebration.