Visiting Camp with Harold Grinspoon

Can you feel the HEAT? A behind the scenes look at philanthropist Harold Grinspoon’s visits to Jewish Camps.

Harold Grinspoon, through his foundation, has donated over $15 million dollars to Jewish Camps all across North America. As you can imagine, he has strong opinions about how that money should be spent. Any camp director would be justifiably nervous when he comes to visit. But no one should expect this kind of heat!

Visiting camps with Harold has become an annual tradition. Mark Gold, the Director of JCamp 180, has the honor of planning Harold’s detailed itinerary, with help from Harold’s longtime assistant Anne Holliday. So, what’s it like to plan and execute a summer camp visit with Harold? And what should your camp expect when Harold arrives at YOUR camp?

The Planning Begins

Each year, usually in February or March, an early morning conversation with Harold Grinspoon goes something like this: “So where are we going this summer?” That’s Harold’s cue to me that it’s time to start planning our summer visits to camps. For most people, the planning could probably begin in May, but for someone with the scheduling concerns of Harold Grinspoon, March is already pushing the timeline. “When are you available?” is always my answer, and as if we’ve scripted it, Harold will say “Talk to Anne today and get some dates. Late July is usually best.” And so, the planning begins.

In two of the past four years, because of a more restricted schedule, Harold has opted to stay closer to Harold’s home in Western Massachusetts. Past trips, however, have included camps in Ontario (5), Georgia (3), Colorado (3), Mississippi, Pennsylvania and New York. In trips prior to my arrival, Harold’s summer camp visits took him to the midwest and the West Coast. Because we try to limit each visit to no more than two hours (to hold down the disruption), our planning is usually based on being able to see as many camps in the day or two set aside for these visits. We aim to see at least two camps a day, but our most ambitious trip was visiting with five camps AND attending a four-hour PJ Library meeting over three days in 2012.

Maximizing the number of camps we would see over our two days is where Anne Holliday’s planning makes all the difference. By flying a private plane we’re able to visit more than one camp each day, often landing at places more descriptively called a landing strip than an airport. But it’s not about the journey, it’s about the visit, and that’s the best part of the trip.

Can You Take the Heat?

In May, when our trip plan is taking its final form, I generally contact the camp director and let her know about our desire to visit. I always get an enthusiastic “We’d love to have Harold visit!” followed closely by “But what if the weather is bad?”

My answer this year was based on six years of camp visits with Harold: “Don’t worry,” I said, “every year Harold and I visit camps it turns out to be the hottest two days of the summer. It won’t rain, it will be 95 degrees.” Sure enough, it was 95 degrees during the two days of this year’s camp visits.

Harold at Camp

And the visits? They were great! Harold, who turned 88 years old two days after our visits, was tough to keep up with. He talked to as many campers and counselors as he could, asking them about camp, their hometown, and PJ Library. He joined campers in their dance class, dragged others to our table at lunch so he could talk with them one-on-one, and (as is typical of someone in the business of rehabbing apartments and condos) couldn’t resist pointing out the benefits that more efficient lighting and plumbing fixtures would bring as we toured cabins, bath-houses, and common areas.

As we wrapped up our visits to four camps this summer, Harold expressed to me his pride in the Foundation’s support of Jewish summer camps. He noted the changes in one of the camps he had last seen eight or ten years earlier, and spoke enthusiastically about the experience that camps were providing Jewish youth and the way that JCamp 180 supports boards of the camps. The trip provided the annual validation that investing in Jewish summer camps, through JCamp 180 and the PJ Goes to Camp first time campership program, are among the best investments he makes. He loves his visits.

And for me? Over the past seven summers of visiting camps with Harold I’ve come to understand the value of seeing first-hand the impact that JCamp 180 has on Jewish youth. I can’t wait for next year’s visits.

Written by Mark P. Gold. Mark is the Director of JCamp 180. His focus areas at JCamp 180 include developing new Matching Grant programs, promoting Jewish Camp financial literacy, overseeing PJ Goes to Camp (part of One Happy Camper), and providing new professional development opportunities for Camp Lay Leadership and staff. 

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at