An exclusive look inside Satmar Camp
Inside Bnos Satmar
By Ted Waddell
KENOZA LAKE — July 22, 2005 – In the wake of the July 13 public hearing held by the Town of Delaware Planning Board to discuss a special use permit to operate a summer camp a.k.a. "recreational facilty, tourist" by the owner/operator of Bnos Satmar of Boro Park at the site of the old Valley View House, the group's attorney, Perry Meltzer of Monticello, arranged an exclusive tour of the Kenoza Lake facility for the Sullivan County Democrat.
The tour of the summer camp for girls ages 10-17 was conducted by assistant camp director Hannah Feder, accompanied by her 4 1/2-year-old son David.
Afterwards, Ari Friedman, facilities manager, walked the Democrat through the 49-room hotel.
Friedman, one of the first people to discover three swastikas spraypainted on the driveway leading to the outdoor swimming pool before the 4th of July weekend, said his initial reaction to the religious defamation was one of "shock, disappointment and horror."
Photographs of the hated symbols of Nazi oppression and terror were turned over to the New York State Police for investigation.
"I can't see any which way that our camp should bother anyone at all," said Feder.
"We're basically in our own area, doing our own thing," she added. "We're happy to be in our own place, and we have no interest in taking over the area."
Last year, the camp reportedly had different operators, and some local folks still remember what they think of as a summer camp that was operated in violation of the town's zoning laws.
AJCD Corporation is listed as owner of the facility, which is run by Bnos Satmar of Boro Park (operating as Machne Bnos Satmar).
Feder said that at present, there are about 180 girls enjoying the gated and fenced-in property.
After breakfast in the main dining hall, the girls participate in activities – on Tuesday, it was a ''trip'' to the Hawaiian Islands – followed by an hour of prayer in an adjoining building.
Later in the day, in the wake of more recreational activities such as swimming, tennis and ballgames, they rejoin for an evening session of prayer lasting 20-some minutes.
"We pray twice a day, seven days a week," said Feder. "We thank God for the new day, to watch over us and to help protect us."
"Lessons of teaching" include aspects of personal respect, respect for others and proper behavior, explained Feder.
The young campers are escorted from activity to activity in small groups by camp counselors; on a ratio of approximately one counselor to every ten or so girls.
"They stay within groups, and we keep the kids within the gates," said Feder. "We have control over our girls, and they like to listen because they get rewarded for it.
"The girls know that if they step out on the road, their next step is going to go home," she said in response to concerns raised at the public hearing regarding hazards to pedestrians caused by vehicles exceeding the posted 40 MPH speed limit along Swiss Hill Road.
Feder said the camp has received a few complaints about laundry drying outside the buildings, clothes that are visible to folks passing in front of the camp/hotel.
She said most of the laundry is hidden from view (hung out to dry on a fence that is in essence their backyard and from second-story windows), and the overflow will be concealed once new clotheslines are strung.
The outdoor pool is screened in by gated metal panels for reasons of "modesty for the girls."
During a tour of the hotel section of the facility, Friedman pointed out most occupied rooms are posted with hand-lettered signs on the doors reading "Family Katz, Family Feder, Family Meissels" while others read in Hebrew Baruchen Habuim to Machne Bnos Satmar, roughly translated as ''welcome to our hotel.''
The door frame of each occupied room is affixed with a mezuzah, a small piece of parchment in a holy container, inscribed with Biblical passages from Deuteronomy 6:4-1 and 11:13-21, along with Shaddai, a word for the Almighty.
"They protect us from everything," said Friedman.
Their difference from the non-Hasidic neighbors, however, is not one they wish to overemphasize.
As Feder left the tour to tend to her young charges, she said, "We don't want to bother anyone. Our goal is to live in harmony with our neighbors."