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Rabbi Eli Hersh, right, talks with Paul Pillis of Gabriels at the Paul Smith's College VIC Tuesday. Also pictured are Hersh's father-in-law, Sam Bojman, and his daughter Bryna. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Rabbi Eli Hersh, right, talks with Paul Pillis of Gabriels at the Paul Smith's College VIC Tuesday. Also pictured are Hersh's father-in-law, Sam Bojman, and his daughter Bryna. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Former Camp Gabriels prison will become Orthodox Jewish camp

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A downstate rabbi plans to turn the former Camp Gabriels prison in Franklin County into a summer camp for Orthodox Jewish boys.

That plan was outlined to local residents Tuesday at the Paul Smith's College VIC. Rabbi Eli Hersh of Spring Valley said between 150 and 250 boys from Orthodox Jewish communities, mostly in the New York City area, would attend the seven-week camp.

There are still unanswered questions about what the property will be used for the rest of the year, but town of Brighton residents welcomed the prison's new owner to the community.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

Hersh, who's from Spring Valley, told a crowd of about 75 people that he started a summer camp eight years ago as a way to continue educating Jewish boys in a more relaxed atmosphere and expose them to other people and environments.

 "A lot of the boys don't get a chance to get out and see other parts (of the world)," Hersh said. "They're more or less, I would say the word secluded. They're living inside their community and they don't get a chance to see the broader community that often."

Hersh said he's been looking for a permanent location for the camp which has moved around over the years from New Hampshire to Maine, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Hersh and his business partner Adam Fine of Rockland County bid $166,000 for Camp Gabriels when the state auctioned it off in October. The closing on the property will take place sometime in the next two weeks.

Hersh said the camp would provide summer school classes in the morning and activities and outings in the afternoon, including canoeing, kayaking, hiking and trips to the Olympic venues in Lake Placid and the Great Escape in Lake George.

Most local residents at Tuesday's meeting welcomed Hersh his plan for the property, although there were some questions about whether a seven-week summer camp will provide the kind of year-round economic impact that's needed in the area.

Hersh said how the project would create jobs, initially from construction and renovation work on the property, but what happens when the summer camp isn't in operation hasn't been decided.

"The main focus of the camp was bought for a summer camp," he said.

"We do have a vision, and we do understand that something has to be done with it the rest of the year. We just don't have the answers yet."

Paul Pillis of Gabriels said he like's Hersh's plan for the property. He also said it's not the rabbi's job to fix the area's economy.

"This was put on the open market by the state of New York," he said. "How many buyers tried to take this on? Thank God we have one man from Spring Valley, New York, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew, who is willing to take on this challenge. He has the financial backers, and I wish him the best."

Hersh said he's pushing hard to get the necessary permits and have the property ready for its first camp sessions in July.

Camp Gabriels, a former medium-security prison near Paul Smiths, has been closed since 2009. The state put the property up for auction in October. Two more North Country prisons are slated for closure in July: Chanteaugay, and Mt. McGregor, in the northern Saratoga County Town of Wilton.

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