Mitzvah Corps Kutz Camp (New York)

The Mitzvah Corps major at the URJ's Kutz Camp gives teens the opportunity to be peer-engagers with Jewish teens living with Autism. Kutz is home to the URJ's longest-running special needs camping program, Gibush.

Prior to the teens with Autism arriving at camp, the teens in the Major receive training and learn about Autism. Once the teens in Gibush arrive, teens in the Major spend a portion of their day with them, helping these teens to have an amazing Jewish camp experience. Some activities teens will experience together include morning and bedtime rituals, meals, electives, art, games, movies, swimming and song sessions. Teens will always be accompanied by professional Mitzvah Corps staff.

Part of what makes this program so unique and wonderful is that the teens in Gibush are able to spend time with Jewish teens their own age in a residential camp environment. Teens in the Major will also have the opportunity to work on a group project that focuses on sharing their experiences with their community, raising awareness about Autism, and skills to enhance the integration of teens with special needs into Jewish life.

Meaningful Summer Camp Experience

  • Developing relationships with the Gibush campers and the other peer-engagers in the Mitzvah Corps Major.
  • Spending meaningful time with both the Gibush campers, and the rest of the Kutz summer participants and camp activities.
  • Engaging with and really get to know teens their own age living with Autisim, gaining a completely new understanding of people living with unique abilities.

Skills to Take Home

  • Add to a resume: community service and experience working with developmental disorders.
  • Learn to be an engager and advocate for teens with all kinds of unique abilities.
  • Embody one of the Union for Reform Judaism's strategic priorities, audacious hospitality

Typical Summer Camp Activities

  • Climb the tower, swim in the pool, play ultimate frisbee, and other fun activities!
  • Sing and dance during song session each day.
  • Learn from professionals in various fields of social justice, visual and performing arts, Judaism, and more!

So how does Kutz work on a typical day? Each participant at Kutz has an individualized schedule, and has the ability to pick and choose which courses to take during the day. Each night Kutz comes together as an entire community for evening programming. Fully integrated into the summer camp program, participants will follow the daily schedule, engaging with the Gibush campers during "major time" each morning. Here is how a typical day works...

Breakfast is served at Kutz from around 8:30am - 9:00am. On any given day, pick from a selection of great breakfast foods served by our wonderful Kitchen and Dining Room Staff! This could include pancakes, waffles, eggs, french toast sticks and oatmeal. Every day we offer a breakfast bar which includes cereal, yogurt and a variety of condiments that you can use to spice up the breakfast meal. What's the best part about breakfast at Kutz? Most days, breakfast is optional!

T'fillah & Majors
The first official programming at Kutz starts around 9:00am. On Mondays and Thursdays, we have t'fillah, and Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we have Hagshama.

Each morning begins with either t'fillah or Hagshama and is followed by your major. The majority of each morning is spent with the major. The major is the area in which participants will spend most of their time at Kutz. 

Minors & Lunch
Following majors, teens will get a quick break and then move into minor blocks. Upon arrival at camp, participants will pick which minors they want to take throughout the session. The minor offerings at Kutz are incredibly broad, and there are a plethora of choices for you. Hone your climbing abilities at our migdal (tower), play sports, take an intensive Jewish Studies course, and much more. 

During the summer at Kutz, there are three minor blocks, but each teen will only choose to participate in two minors. One of the three minor blocks is filled by lunch hour. Depending on which minors are chosen will determine the lunch block. Minors vary in length, some offered as one week options and others offered for three weeks.

What kind of food can be expected for lunch? Anything from grilled cheese, pizza, hamburgers, corn dogs, mac and cheese and much more. And what if the main course doesn't quite suit a teen's fancy? No worries! We have a salad bar at lunch every day, which in addition to the ingredients to make a great personalized salad, also includes the peanut butter and jelly option!

The fourth block during the day is chuggim. During this block, participants will choose a daily activity ranging from four different categories: Sports, Fun & Games, Art, or Clubs. These tend to be a little lighter in nature, and will often be taught by some of our Resident Advisors or Visiting Faculty. Some of the options that have been offered in the past include: kickball, kindergarten activities, ultimate frisbee, synchronized swimming, and baking! 

Free Time
From around 4:00pm - 6:30pm, participants have time to just relax and hang out. The pool and tower are open for use, or teens can hang out on the grove and read or play guitar. During some days, movies and other activities are offered for participants to take part in if they so choose.

Dinner at Kutz is the only meal of the day during which everyone comes together. This is a sit-down meal and every night a different set of cabins are in charge of being the waiters, and providing each table with food. What's on the menu? Turkey, Lasagna, Roast Beef, Fajitas, and much more! Vegetarian? No worries, we offer a veggie options for any meal in which there is meat as the main course. Every Saturday night we have a great outdoors cookout!

Song Session
On most evenings, following dinner and the birkat hamazon (grace after meals), we will move right into song session. One of the most amazing things is seeing the many different traditions that the various participants have during song session all happen at once! Some of the Reform Movement's most talented musicians, including Dan Nichols, join us for some of our song sessions. Also, once we get later into the session, students from the Songleading Major also get the opportunity to be in front of the group during song session.

Evening Program / T'fillah
Following Dinner and Song Session, participants get a small break and then everyone comes together for our evening program. On days where we do not do t'fillah in the morning, we do a community wide prayer service follewed by our evening program.

Evening Programs at Kutz run the gauntlet in terms of the topics that they cover. Some tend to be more serious in nature, while others are more social and active. Some topics of evening programs that have been covered in the past include: Israel, God, Sexuality, Ethics, and Poverty. There are several evening programs throughout the session that the participants themselves get to create and implement for all of camp as well. Each of our majors work together as a group to create and run a program on a topic of their choosing for the entire Kutz community once during the session.

Several evenings throughout the summer, Kutz is privileged to have various musicians come to camp and perform for us, including Dan Nichols, Alan Goodis, and Josh Nelson.

Disability Rights

Participants in the Mitzvah Corps major at Kutz can expect to learn about a variety of different topics that will help in the role as a peer-engager.  Here are some of the topics that are explored during the Major:

  • The characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • What it is like to live with Autism.
  • How to work with the Gibush campers and be comfortable in a role helping to integrate them into the mainstream camp program.
  • Social justice as it relates to disabilities inclusion in all aspects of life.
  • Basic counseling, coping, and relaxation skills.
  • What can be done in communities back home to raise awareness about Autism.
  • How to advocate on behalf of special needs inclusion and inclusion for people of all abilities within communities back home.

Who goes to Kutz?
Reform Jewish teenagers from across North America who are entering the 10th – 12th grades. We also have participants from Israel, Europe as well as other parts of the world. Entering 9th graders are accepted on a case by case basis with the recommendation of a congregational Rabbi.

What if a teen has never been to camp before?
Almost everyone is new at Kutz each and every summer, and we are well-known for our friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Special efforts are made early in cabin, class and in all-camp activities in community building.

What if participants normally go to another URJ Camp?
The URJ Kutz Camp – NFTY Leadership Center is part of the greater URJ Camping and NFTY system. Many of our participants come once or twice only to develop their leadership skills in order to return to one’s home Temple Youth Group, NFTY Region or Regional URJ Camp.

When will classes be selected?
You will select your major when you register for camp, and choose your minors and electives once you arrive at camp.

Who are the staff and faculty?
Our staff and faculty go through a careful selection process and training prior to the summer. All Resident Advisors (cabin counselors) are at least entering college sophomores. Our faculty is a group of gifted Jewish educators and professionals dedicated to mentoring Jewish teens. They include members of the NFTY staff, rabbis, cantors, artists and educators.

Are dietary restrictions accommodated? 
The URJ Kutz Camp is a kosher-style camp; we do not mix meat and milk together. Vegetarian food whenever meat is served for those who request it.

What about health, safety and security?
Health and safety is our first and foremost concern, and we are proud of our outstanding health-care record. The URJ Kutz Camp is accredited by the American Camping Association (ACA) and licensed by the New York State Orange County Department of Health. The camp has full-time medical staff in residence as well as a number of first-aid personnel. In addition, there is a pediatrician on call for the camp. The local hospital is within a few minutes from camp. The URJ Kutz Camp – like all URJ Camps – has a 24-hour security system that includes the use of a security gate, fence and personnel.

Is there a trip day?
Each session, one day is spent in New York City visiting Jewish and tourist sites. Every trip includes a Broadway show in the evening.

Is there a visiting day?
There is not a visiting day in the summer schedule.

Mitzvah Corps programs are designed to be mixed and matched, giving you the opportunity to connect two or more experiences to design your ideal social justice summer.

Mitzvah Corps at Kutz Camp connects well with the Civil Rights Journey or Washington DC.

At A Glance

Dates: Coming soon!
Eligibility: Entering Grades 10-12
Issue Focus: Disability Rights
Cost: TBD
Register for multiple programs to receive a $200 discount per additional program.