Camp Professionals 08.14.17

Youth Led, Youth Fed

Youth Led, Youth Fed

By Elan Ness-Cohn

Working at any Jewish summer camp is a challenging and rewarding experience, but working at a Habonim Dror Camp (Builders of Freedom) has a little something extra. Everyone from the counselors (Tzevet) to the camp director (Rosh Machaneh) and executive leadership (Mazkirut) is run by youth ranging from recent high school graduates to recent college graduates and every year in between. With the support of only a handful of adult allies, camp is truly a place for the youth created by the youth. And at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, even the kitchen staff (Tzevet Mitbach) is youth led to keep all the youth fed.

This summer, my co-rosh mitbach (kitchen head) and I have had the privilege of managing the kitchen at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor. Both in our early 20’s, with a few years of camp and restaurant cooking experience between us, we were faced with the responsibility of preparing three meals a day for 150 plus people for two and a half months, creating over 24,000 plates of food. While at first there was a bit of a learning curve, after weeks of mass food preparation, the work became a bit too monotonous. We wanted to spice things up to make this summer both special for ourselves and those at camp, but mostly we needed an outlet to keep the camp spirit of fun alive. We decided to make and photograph one beautifully plated dish at each meal and share it on Instagram to document our culinary accomplishments. While the birth of Instagram account @TasteOfTavor started out as more of a joke to see camp food presented in a high-class fashion, over time, plating became a staple of what it meant to work in the mitbach (kitchen).

The plating was enjoyable and allowed us to explore and learn new techniques of food presentation. What’s more, the process of creating the image and cataloging our creations challenged us to stop for a second and further evaluate the food we were making and the impact it had on our campers. Do we have enough healthy options? How often were we using vegetables grown from our farm at camp? Were the campers and staff enjoying the meal we prepared? What people sometimes forget is that the food experience of a camp has just as much an impact on a camper’s summer experience as a day’s programming. Knowing that you have a well-balanced meal waiting for you three times a day makes it possible to be positively engaged and having fun without becoming over exhausted.

Sometimes, the food itself enhances the programming experience more directly. This summer at Camp Tavor, the Garinimot (Campers going into 8th grade) planned a wedding-themed funch (fun lunch) for the rest of camp. My staff and I were dedicated to making it magical. We created a meal that fit the occasion: mini-quiche, heart shaped bruschetta toast, and of course a beautiful three tier wedding cake. While creating special meals is always gratifying, for us, the real joy of our job is knowing that every camper and staff has something to eat that fits their dietary needs.


Elan Ness-Cohn has been at camp Tavor for twelve summers, with the last six being part of the youth leadership. As a recent MIT Alum with a Bachelors of Science in Biology, Elan plans to continue to pursue biomedical research in graduate school at Northwestern in the Fall.