Surprise Lake Camp (SLC) has a rich history. It was founded in 1902 by the Educational Alliance to provide a summer vacation for Jewish boys from the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In its first season, it had six tents for 25 campers and five counselors Over the years, Surprise Lake Camp has been substantially rebuilt three times. In addition, its clientele and program have evolved as the Jewish community has changed. Aside from serving the boys from the tenements, the camp has also gone through periods when it was dedicated to feeding undernourished boys, operated as a year-round camp which included formal education during the winter, committed to the personal development of children using a social group work model, and run as a general co-ed summer camp with special emphasis on scholarships.
One of the first campers was Eddie Cantor, who, upon achieving success as an entertainer, became one of the camp’s most ardent supporters. Since then, SLC has served thousands of young people, many of whom have achieved prominence, among them, entertainer Neil Diamond, talk show host Larry King, actor Jerry Stiller and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams.
Today, Surprise Lake Camp serves boys and girls from the Greater New York City area from 7 to 15 years of age. Fees are set according to a sliding scale based on income and family size, with approximately 45-50 percent of the campers receiving reductions. In 2013, SLC awarded over $930,000 in total scholarships, making Surprise Lake what we believe to be the most generous Jewish scholarship camp in the country.
Surprise Lake Camp boasts one of the most beautiful sites in the country, one of the most reputable programs, and a large, well-trained, caring staff. Many of our facilities are among the finest that you will find anywhere. But SLC does not try to be like an exotic theme park, full of bright lights and glitter. We don’t emphasize material things because we believe that the true magic of camping is rooted in intangibles like the beauty of nature, the guidance of a highly trained staff, and helping children to grow into well-rounded adults.
Camp is a supportive, caring community with an upbeat Jewish flavor. We sing a lot and we cheer a lot, and we make the most of the unique opportunity camp affords to create a model of the world as it should be – joyous and at peace, achieving the human potential for successful group living. Since 1902, our campers have come away with better skills for getting along with others, greater independence, enhanced self-esteem, stronger Jewish identities, heightened environmental awareness, and a fuller sense of their creative potential.