New doc explores the history of Camp Kadimah

It was more than two years in the making, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction to a new documentary about Camp Kadimah, a summer camp in Barss Corner, N.S., showed that the time, labour and financial investment was worth it.

The premiere showing of Camp Kadimah: The Story of Our Lives, a one hour and 45 minute documentary about one of the great unifying forces of Atlantic Canadian Jewry, took place before awed audiences at Pier 21 in Halifax on Nov. 18 and the Meridian Arts Centre in Toronto on Nov. 19.

It was also shown in Ottawa and Vancouver and will be seen by Kadimah alumni in Los Angeles and Israel in the next few weeks. It will soon be available to the public through a new website, as well.

Produced and directed by Lynda Medjuck Suissa of Halifax, who attended the summer camp for more than a dozen years, the film highlighted the joy that thousands of children have had over the camp’s 76 years of operation.

Starting with a brief history of Jews in Atlantic Canada and the origins of the camp, through closing night in 2019, the film captures the emotions of alumni around the world. Campers from all over Canada, as well as the United States and Israel, have attended Kadimah.

“So much history, so many memories and so many friends! Thanks (Suissa) for giving us this very special documentary,” wrote Gloria Jacobson Pink, who grew up in Saint John, N.B. and met her husband, Steven Pink of Yarmouth, N.S. at Kadimah. The couple sent their children and grandchildren to Kadimah.

Leigh Lampert of Moncton met his wife, Darcie Richler of Toronto, at Kadimah and wrote on Facebook that Kadimah “holds a very special place in our lives and the lives of our children. Thank you to Lynda and the many people who helped with this wonderful project. They spent hundreds of hours going through decades worth of photos, videos, correspondence and artifacts and interviewing more than a hundred current and former campers and staff. The end product was remarkable – a true labour of love.”

Andrea Garson, who was born in Halifax and now lives in Toronto, remarked that, “It was an amazing tribute to a wonderful place.”

Suissa was glowing after the premiere performances.

“It brought me so much joy and fulfillment to help people share their memories,” she said. “I interviewed 100 people and made sure each and every one got to be in the film. They captured the whole essence of what Kadimah has meant to them, and to everyone.”

Suissa traced the beginnings of Atlantic Canadian Jewry’s golden years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when hundreds of immigrants came from eastern Europe to settle in Halifax, Saint John, Moncton and Cape Breton. Many started life as peddlers in the hinterlands, and went on to become retailers before going into professions and industry.

“It was a story of people coming from many shtetls, setting their roots into one larger (Maritime provinces) shtetl. It was important to tell our children this part of their history,” she said.

Suissa found film from the camp’s early days in the 1940s through today, and combined it with interviews and photographs to relate Kadimah’s history.

“The film is called The Story of Our Lives because it is the story of each one us who attended Kadimah or sent their children. It is also the story of the Jewish communities of Atlantic Canada,” Suissa said.

Former camp director Joanna Wexler of Halifax eloquently described her feelings at the movie’s conclusion:

“Over the course of lifetimes, and sometimes even generations, we connect with places and people that are transformative. This beautifully compiled documentary really conveyed the power of this special place, and highlighted the importance of these spaces of culture, heritage and history for us, particularly for those of us in small Jewish communities. Kadimah is a lifeline to Jewish identity here in very real and tangible ways.”

Suissa said people came forward with offers to assist financially. “Their generosity made this project happen,” she said.

She concluded by saying that, “It was a fun project, a beautiful story. I love Camp Kadimah. So many people have grown up with Kadimah as an integral part of their lives and their story.”