BB Camp History 2017-04-24T22:11:18+00:00

In 1921, Mrs. Julia (Isaac) Swett, director of the B’nai B’rith Building Association, decided to start a Jewish resident camp for the kids in old South Portland as a way for the children to get out of the city and back to nature.  The cost of Camp, paid in monthly installments, was $5 per child.  The camp started on rented property at “Camp Walula” located in Stevenson, Washington (southwest Washington) on Bass Lake.  Then, the camp program moved to a site in Neskowin, Oregon, and in 1925, to the current property donated by former Oregon Governor Julius Meyer and his family on the east side of rustic Devils Lake. Mrs. Swett continued as director of the camp for nearly 20 years.

When the B’nai B’rith Building Association changed its name to the Jewish Community Center (and later to the Mittleman Jewish Community Center), B’nai B’rith Camp, which had already become a beloved institution, kept its traditional name.

In 1931, under the auspices of the Ramblers, a group of guys got together at BB Camp for a “Mens Camp”, which evolved into the B’nai Brith Mens Camp Association’s annual encampment.  While continuing to run its own camp for Mens Campers from the ages of 25 to 93, BBMCA has evolved to become the primary source of financial support for BB Camp, and now is the parent organization for BB Camp.

Early camp directors David Biatch and Stan Berman set the stage for a generation of leadership by Harry (“Polly”) Policar and Mickey Hirschberg who ran the camp from 1950 until Polly’s retirement in 1971.  During those early years, there were separate sessions for boys and girls.  By the time Polly retired, the Tattooers (the guys who occupied the old boat house during Mens Camp) had built their new cabin, which actually had glass windows and inside plumbing- very modern.  Following the construction of the Tattoers cabin, a whole new row of cabins, which like the cool new Tattooers’ cabin had glass windows and inside plumbing, lined the new North Side, and the old crib in the lake had been replaced with a beautiful new pool.

Under new director Ralph Birnberg, BB Camp made the dramatic change from separate sessions to, gasp, co-ed camping.  Many old time campers thought BB Camp would never be the same; and they were right, it just continued to get better.

Since 1970, BB Camp has continued to evolve, with each distinguished director adding his or her particular stamp to BB Camp.  In 1982, under the leadership of Jeff Lann, BB Camp added its one week Maccabee session as a bridge to the traditional three week sessions.

Since 1999, under our current executive director, Michelle Koplan, BB Camp has undergone tremendous growth.  BB Camp  converted to a fully kosher kitchen, added new programming for our campers, both during the summer and year-round, and created a day camp program which offers local, often non-Jewish, kids the opportunity to participate in that special BB Camp experience.  Additionally, Michelle created and implemented our Kehila program for campers with special needs and our teen philanthropy program for teens, both have received national recognition.

With Michelle’s guidance, BB Camp became actively involved in the national Jewish camping movement, as an early participant in the activities of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Harold Grinspoon’s Foundation Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, now JCamp180.

BB Camp’s Dor L’Dor Camper Incentive Program, the first individual camp based program of its type in the country, was created to make it easier for all kids to experience BB Camp.  Michelle has been instrumental in growing BB Camp, both by growing capacity for our campers and strategically growing the agency.  Under Michelle’s leadership, the agency has grown into a year-round agency serving both children and adults in Jewish engagement and building lifelong Jewish connections for the community.

In 2009, after an 89 year affiliation with the MJCC, the B’nai Brith Mens Camp Association purchased the camp property and operation from the MJCC, establishing BB Camp as an independent, community based Jewish camp.  A separate operating entity, BB Camp LLC, with its own board of directors was created to operate BB Camp, and BB Camp joined the Jewish Community Centers Association as an independent camp, retaining its traditional ties to the JCC movement.  That same year, BB Camp completed a ten year master plan for the camp property, which envisions a future for BB Camp that recognizes its over 90 year history while building for a future of which its thousands of alumni and friends will all be proud.

The history of B’nai B’rith Camp has only just begun.  Each future generation will have its own opportunity to add chapters to this history as, from generation to generation (dor l’dor), BB Camp continues as that special place, where friends are made and lives are changed forever.