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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RABBI JUDAH MISCHEL

For more than forty years, Camp HASC, (The Hebrew Academy for Special Children) has served the Jewish community as the premier summer program for children and adults with special needs, intellectual and physical disabilities. This past week, Ari Hirsch had the opportunity to interview the Executive Director of Camp HASC, Rav Judah (Mischel) and discuss the highly anticipated annual “A Time for Music” concert taking place at Lincoln Center on Sunday January 7th.

FAST FACTS ABOUT RAV JUDAH MISCHEL

Known at camp as: Rav Judah
Family: Married to Ora (Marcus). Eight children from the ages of 6 months to 16.
Age: 40
Grew up in: Monsey, New York
Yeshivas growing up: Ashar, Frisch, Yeshivat Shaalavim, Yeshiva University.
Degrees: Earned a BA in History from Yeshiva University, a Masters in Education from Azrieli Graduate School, and was a Graduate Fellow at the CUNY Center for Coexistence at the School for Public Affairs.
Smicha from: Rabbi Nosson Sternheartz
Lives currently in: Ramat Beit Shemesh in Eretz Yisrael (last 15 years)
Years at Camp HASC: 12
Current Title at Camp HASC: Executive Director (began March 2014)
Previous Title: Camp Rabbi (2005-2011) and worked alongside Shmeil Kahn, Dr. Rayzel Yaish
and Rabbi Avi Pollack, Program Director (2005-2011)
Previous Jobs: Maggid Shiur & Director of Programing at Yeshivat Reishit in Beit Shemesh. Rav Judah was Director of Student Activities and a member of the Judaic Studies faculty at the Frisch School, in Paramus, NJ, and led Aish HaTorah Jerusalem’s Return & Learn Program. Rav Judah founded Tzama Nafshi, an organization dedicated to fostering Jewish education and inspiration, committed to working to connect Jews with their Heritage and each other.

Q: How did you become the “face” of Camp HASC?
A: I hope that’s not true!  We have a great team at Camp HASC. There are so many talented and dedicated staff members.

Q: How did you get your job at Camp HASC?
A: I was teaching at Yeshivat Reishit in Eretz Yisrael and a lot of the guys were going to Camp HASC during the summer. Naftali Herman, an old friend, was a Division Head at Camp HASC and a Madrich at Reishit. There was an administrative turnover at the time, so he made the connection between me and Camp HASC.

Q: How long has Camp HASC been around?
A: Camp HASC began as a year-round program over forty years ago.

Q: How many campers & staff where there this past summer?
A: Three hundred fifty full-time and part-time campers and six hundred staff. There is double the amount of staff to campers.

Q: How has Camp HASC grown over the last five years?
A: We’ve grown and been able to provide more comprehensive services, better medical treatment, more therapy, and provide more advanced care for individuals with special needs and more complicated medical conditions.

Q: Is finances ever an issue as far as accepting a camper at Camp HASC?
A: No camper is ever turned away because of finances. We are committed to making sure that anyone who is able to benefit from our services should never be turned away because of finances. Each year we give well over a million and a half dollars in scholarships.

Q: What’s your favorite part about Camp HASC?
A: Seeing the beautiful relationships both between campers and staff members and staff members with each other. I also love seeing the incredible Kiddush Hashem of people growing together.

Q: Who was your favorite guest at Camp HASC this past summer?
A: My Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Zvi Kluger

Q: Who do you think is the favorite guest for the campers?
A: Uncle Moishy. Everyone’s favorite day is when Uncle Moishy comes to town!

Q: What’s your most challenging part about Camp HASC?
A: There’s not enough hours in the day to get things done.

Q: Is there anything special that you and your staff are planning for summer 2018?
A: There is always something new and exciting going on at Camp HASC! We have many new programs planned and are always bettering our program.  There are structural improvements, as well. We are proud of our partnership with Proud Moment who provide incredible and professional behavioral support for our campers.

Q: Please tell everyone about the Chairman of the Board of Camp HASC, Jeremy Strauss?
A: Jeremy is one of the most passionate, dedicated, and generous lay leaders you will have ever met. He’s an extraordinary human being.  And yes, he is a real Yekki!

Q: Why do you think Camp HASC is the place to go if you are a musician?
A: The goal of Jewish entertainment and music is really to inspire, bring simcha to other people, lift up people, and open people’s hearts. I don’t know what happens on other stages, but when someone comes to Camp HASC and stands with the campers and staff, sings together with them, and stands eye-to-eye with them, it reminds people why they’re in the industry of Jewish music. It’s such a pure expression of soul and the neshama shines through. It’s absolute pure connectivity, soul-to-soul, bringing simcha to others. It’s inspiring.

 
Q; How many shidduchim have come out of Camp HASC? Is there an official stat somewhere?
A: Nope, but hopefully many more!Q: Is there anything else about Camp HASC that you would like to share with our readers?
A: For the vast majority of our campers, there’s really nowhere else for them to go during the summer. The respite it provides for the families, the progress the campers are able to make therapeutically at Camp HASC, and the relationships and love that’s cultivated is something that is extraordinary.  There’s no place else in the world that it’s possible and we count on our community to help us, to be our partners, and to be a part of it. It’s the most special place on earth.

Q: The famous Camp HASC “A Time for Music” concert is only a couple of weeks away at Lincoln Center. The best Jewish entertainers have shown up every year for the last 30 years. How many concerts have you been to?
A: This will be my sixth concert.

Q: Who’s your favorite entertainer at the concerts over the six years?
A: Each concert is better than the next, but I love Avraham Fried.

Q; What’s your favorite part about the concert?
A: Everybody who comes gets an unmatched, unparalleled entertainment experience all in support of a wonderful cause. Every single moment is a Kiddush Hashem. It’s a beautiful night where people spend time out with family and friends all in support of a wonderful cause. The success of our concert and the generosity of our concert goers, directly affects how we run the summer program at Camp HASC. We will sell out. Every year we sell out faster and faster than the year before.

Q: How has the producer of the concert, Eli Gerstner taken the show to the next level?
A: Eli Gerstner is a world class mentsch. Everything he does is with all of his heart. He is dedicated to the campers and the families to putting on a top-notch show, the most impressive night of Jewish music throughout the world. He keeps his eye on the budget so that Camp HASC can profit more each year and that is because of Eli Gerstner’s professionalism and dedication to Camp HASC. He puts the cause at the center. The concert is a proven entity. It is an annual world-wide production.

Q: Are you a fan of not announcing who the entertainers are for the concert until show time?
A: Not announcing the performers puts the emphasis on our campers and the program.  It keeps the emphasis on the main thing, which is the campers. Anyone who has sat through a concert has never been disappointed.

Q: Anything special about the concert that you would like to share?
A: It’s a large concert hall, but it really feels like a close-knit group of people. It’s really encouraging. Besides for the money which helps us run our program and enable all those who want to come to camp to come, it gives us chizzuk to see so many people really open their hearts that night.

 
Q: MBD. Yaakov Shwekey. Abie Rotenberg. Avraham Fried. Baruch Levine. Rivi Schwebel. Yitzy Waldner. The list goes on and on. Come on, can you please give us a hint as to who the entertainers will be this year?
A: All I can say is this: just wait and see what we have in store for you! Tickets really are selling out fast. More than 3/4 of the seats are already gone. Don’t wait until the last minute because there won’t be a seat left in the house!