2017-08-30 / Home

Locals who met at Harlam recommit to marriage where romance began

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


Among couples who recommitted during the ceremony were several from South Jersey, including (from left), Alex and Liz Grumbacher, Susan and Joel Kaber, Lisa and Rabbi Ben David, and Bess and Dr. Jim Soffer. Among couples who recommitted during the ceremony were several from South Jersey, including (from left), Alex and Liz Grumbacher, Susan and Joel Kaber, Lisa and Rabbi Ben David, and Bess and Dr. Jim Soffer. In the summer of 1968, 18- year-old Jim Soffer set his sights on 16-year-old Margate native Bess Feinstein, “the cutest” counselor-in-training at Camp Harlam in the Poconos.

After weeks of hanging out on the front porch of the CIT lodge, often sticking around until curfew, Jim, an assistant division head, finally got Bess to agree to a first date that they recall as both cheesy and romantic. Toting a blanket and his battery-operated record player, he romanced her on the slope of Harlam’s Lake Joshua. Huddled together for warmth, they blew bubbles and listened to Simon and Garfunkel songs.

Was it love at first sight? Not exactly.

“It was a nice, little summer romance,” said Jim, 67, of Cherry Hill. “But it didn’t have legs so to speak.”


Couples taking part in the Camp Harlam recommitment ceremony. Couples taking part in the Camp Harlam recommitment ceremony. Two years later, the couple picked up where they left off when both found themselves on a Harlam-sponsored trip to Israel. But back on U.S. soil, Jim and Bess parted ways again until a chance encounter four summers later when the romance “finally developed some legs.” They tied the knot on June 15, 1975.

Some 42 years later, the Soffers met under a chuppah again. But this time around, they stood with a handful of other married couples that also met at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) overnight camp. Among them were their close friends Joel and Susan Kaber (also summer of ‘68) and Liz and Alex Grumbacher (summer of 2002). The ceremony, on Aug. 13, took place at the camp’s picturesque Chapel in the Woods, which many Harlamites consider a sacred place.

Adath Emanu-El Rabbi Ben David, who met his future wife Lisa at Harlam in the summer of 1988, performed the ceremony. Lisa David, Harlam’s camp director, broke the glass on behalf of all the recommitted couples as some 300 people, mostly alumni, bore witness. In many cases, children and grandchildren of the couples were among those in attendance.

“It was really beautiful,” said Jim, a former president of the Katz JCC and Jewish Community Voice whose two sons Geoffrey and Rabbi Matthew Soffer are also alumni (and Matthew met his wife Nicole there). “Looking around at the audience, there were very few dry eyes. So many of our old camp friends were there—where it all began. So many of us have so many blessings that came out of that place.”

The ceremony is one of many events planned to celebrate the camp’s 60th anniversary.

“Although it’s not a critical outcome of camp, the fact that so many people met their partners here shows what a meaningful place Harlam is for multiple generations of families,” remarked Lisa David, who did not start dating Ben until seven years after they met as 11-year-olds.

Like the Soffers, Mount Laurel residents Liz and Alex Grumbacher didn’t expect their “fun, campy” romance to go anywhere. Both were on staff and part of the fun of dating was keeping their budding romance secret from the campers.

But when they found themselves visiting each other after camp during breaks from college, they realized they had something more than a summer fling. While they were planning their wedding, they actually considered having it at camp, but sadly realized they couldn’t pull it off.

“It was so nice to be able to have this moment at the camp together with all the other couples,” said Grumbacher, the director of North American Events at URJ. “You could feel the power that this place has.”

Of the South Jersey couples at the ceremony, Joel and Susan Kaber’s Harlam romance was the one that, by summer’s end, was really going places. Some 18 months after their first date, the couple married. Their two children, Rachel and Jeremy, both are alumni. And now their granddaughter Remy is a camper.

For Joel, a past executive director of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, it was not only special to experience recommitment with close friends, but to have lunch with Remy and tour the grounds.

“Driving up with Jim and Bess, once you’re on that final road and start getting closer to camp, that special feeling returns no matter how many years you’ve been away,” he said. 

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