On Monday evening, April 30th, close to 100 people joyously gathered at the elegant UN Plaza Grill restaurant on Manhattan’s east side to celebrate the long awaited reunion of those who attended the iconic Camp Betar in upstate New York during the 1960s and 70s. Betar, (an acronym of Brit Trumpeldor of America) is a youth movement founded by the Revisionist Zionist leader, soldier, statesman, orator and visionary, Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, of blessed memory. The movement was founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, Russia.
As dozens of ebullient faces filled the luxurious room at the restaurant, they were greeted by reunion organizer and chief sponsor, Mr. Ronald Edelstein of Ron Properties, a prestigious real estate firm. “Besides serving the purpose of reuniting old friend from Camp Betar and the movement, this reunion has taken on new meaning as it is also a fundraiser for a very important project. Tonight, we are soliciting much needed funds to establish a synagogue and sports center in memory of Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, ztk’l of the Har Bracha settlement in the Shomron,” said Mr. Edelstein with palpable conviction reverberating in his voice.
In February of this year Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, 29, the father of four young children, was stabbed to death by an Arab terrorist while waiting at a hitchhiking post near the settlement of Ariel as he headed to a (brit milah) circumcision ceremony for his nephew. His suspected killer managed to flee the scene.
Rabbi Ben-Gal lived on the settlement of Har Bracha, a community of some 2,500 people on the outskirts of Schechem. Also residing for many years on Har Bracha in Samaria is Yonaton Behar, a longtime Camp Betar attendee during the 1970s. Mr. Behar embarked on a special trip to the United States for the express purpose of honoring Rabbi Ben-Gal’s memory through an informative speaking tour and an array of fundraising events.
“As Betarim, there is no doubt that tonight our collective memories are drawn to a small campsite on a top of a hill in the tiny hamlet of Neversink, New York in the Catskill mountains, “ said Mr. Behar. He added, “That is the place where we all met and connected in such powerful ways decades ago. Tonight, however, we rekindle our enduring friendships but our minds turn to the holy land of Israel and assisting in making it more secure. For it was indeed our Zionist education that we received in Camp Betar that helped forge a lifetime of genuine love, sacrifice and loyalty to the one and only Jewish state. And that love of Israel is our shared destiny which we cherish to this very day.”
Also taking a prominent role towards making this reunion a reality was Lawrence D. Chariton, of the Great American Jewelry store in Massapequa, New York. For weeks prior to the reunion, Mr. Chariton worked the phones incessantly and sent out scores of e-mails in the hopes of attracting as many Camp Betar alumni as possible.
“I was honored to help in organizing this reunion and serving as a catalyst in bringing old friends together. Camp Betar helped in defining not only our Jewish and Zionist identities during our childhood and adolescence but our fellow campers, our counselors and others became our second family, “ said Mr. Chariton.
Mr. Chariton added, “I want to make special mention of the man who served as our inspirational mentor at Camp Betar and that of course is Barry H. Liben, the former Rosh Hanhaga Artzit. Barry could not attend tonight but sends his warmest regards and love to everyone here.”
Leading off the fundraising for the synagogue in Har Bracha was Mr. Edelstein who delivered a moving address to the assemblage. Also speaking at the event was beloved director of Camp Betar and former Rosh Hanhaga Artzit, Mr. Fred S. Pierce. Mr. Pierce recalled political demonstrations and other acts of civil disobedience that members of the Betar movement held decades ago at the nearby United Nations building. “Yes, we were arrested for a cause that we believed in and that spirit of Hadar was role modeled for us by our madrichim at Camp Betar,” said Mr. Pierce.
Also recounting treasured memories of Camp Betar was Barry Albalah, originally of Fairlawn, New Jersey who attended the reunion with his younger brother David.
Mr. Gil Atzmon, currently residing in Texas, recalled his animated memories of his Camp Betar days and encouraged those present to give generously to this noble cause in the soon to be city of Har Bracha.
Regaling the crowd with his mellifluous rendition of Hatikva (the Israeli national anthem) was acclaimed cantor of the Hamptons Synagogue, Netanel Hershtik. Graciously singing the Betar anthem known as “Shir Betar” (written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky) was longtime Betaria, Professor Wilma Friedman, of Rutgers University. Professor Friedman was remembered not only for her warmth, her intellectual prowess, her superior athletic abilities but her outstanding operatic voice.
Mr. Edelstein profusely thanked his daughter Samantha and son-in-law Abraham for their invaluable help in organizing the reunion. “I am so very proud of the amazing dedication of Samantha and Abraham in making tonight’s event come to fruition. And she managed to accomplish this, with G-d’s help, in such a short amount of time. For that and much more, I am very grateful.”
All contributions for the synagogue in memory of Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, ztk’l to be built in Har Bracha can be made payable to: Central Fund of Israel/Har Bracha, c/o Ronald Edelstein, 329 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022.
By: Fern Sidman