Gindling Hilltop Camp

Infobox City|official_name = Gindling Hilltop Camp
nickname = Hilltop, GHC
website =


map_caption = Gindling Hilltop Camp

Gindling Hilltop Camp is a summer sleep-away camp located in Malibu, California, in Little Sycamore Canyon between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on a coastal ridge, 750 feet above sea level, providing a spectacular view of the ocean and the surrounding hills and canyons. The camp serves approximately 120 campers, ages 7-15, and has a staff of about 40. The residential director for Summer 2008 is Gersh Lazarow.

Hilltop and its sister camp, Camp Hess Kramer, are run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, an organization associated with the Union for Reform Judaism. The director of WBTC (currently Doug Lynn) supervises both camps, but Hilltop is run on a day-to-day basis by a residential director. The camp's staff is made up of counselors, activity specialists, religious educators, supervisors (for programming, counselors, and counselors-in-training), and health personnel.


GHC was founded in 1968 after enrollment at Camp Hess Kramer became too high. The camp is named after Al Gindling, who was a major builder in Oxnard and throughout Ventura County. Steve Breuer, the camp director of Hess Kramer at the time, wanted to build another camp for all the kids who were turned away each year. His estimation was that another camp could be built at the top of the hill for only $1 million dollars. Accordingly, WBTC bought 80 acres worth of land and started planning. The cost of the land is not known, although today the campsite is worth tens of millions of dollars, due to its location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. One of the initial plans for Hilltop was to have a stream running from the Hilltop Athletic Complex (HAC) all the way to the Chapel. The builders decided that this plan was not feasible, but it does help explain why Hilltop is so spread out. All of the cabins (except the Pink Palaces), Moadon and Dining Hall, office and staff housing are original buildings dating to 1969.

The first season was the summer of 1968. Construction was still in progress, and only two cabins were constructed - the first two of the girl's area. These contained approximately 20 boys and 20 girls and were named Adam 1 and 2 and Eve 1 and 2. There was no plumbing, so portable restrooms/outhouses and bottled drinking water was the order of the day. The dining hall was also not complete - campers ate in the now social hall eating food brought from Hess Kramer. Campers went down to Hess Kramer each day and showered in Hess Kramer cabins.

Camp programs and facilities

One of the biggest differences between the Hilltop of the 1960s and 70s and the camp currently is the current lack of a horseriding program. Above the HAC, where the current staff Pink Palaces stand, was the Wrangler's house and stalls to keep the horses. When there were horses on camp property, what is now the HAC served as the riding range. Horses were unique to Hilltop but the program only lasted until the early 1980s, when WBTC got rid of them for insurance reasons. After horse riding ended, the Fitch family donated money to build the HAC. An exercise course with stations for different types of workouts was built around the HAC and upper cabin area. During a previous fire, many were destroyed. The remnants of one or two can still be seen. Currently the HAC is used for sporting events, Pioneer Days, and staff Crisco sliding.

As a replacement for the horseriding program, a kibbutz program was instituted. WBTC built a red chicken shed (with animals) in the Saddle area (the current location of the Ropes course) where campers could help raises chickens and goats. There was also a large army tent in the middle of the Saddle where cabins took turns sleeping at night. The kibbutz program ended in 1989. In 1998, a high element ropes course was constructed in the Saddle, and the kibbutz structure was demolished in the Fall 2003.

Camp community

It is important to note that "Hilltop was always Hilltop", meaning that GHC always had circular tables, always had open seating at meals, and was always a small, close community. Music and song session has remained a major part of the Hilltop program. Chuck Feldman, who was songleader as well as camp director for years, wrote many of the camp songs that are unique to Hilltop and Camp Hess Kramer. At Hilltop, Feldman ran had a music chug where he wrote songs with campers that were then added to the songbook. The most famous song written in this chug was "Cherish the Torah". One principal difference in song sessions from the Feldman era was that the songleader led song session with a piano, instead of an acoustic guitar. Another different was the relative lack of “shtick” in song sessions. Unlike now, when extra words, chants, and dances are added to songs, most were sung exactly as they were written.

"The Hilltop Heartbeat" started in the 1970s. Above the double doors in the Dining Hall, there was a huge piece of butcher paper with every day of the session written at the bottom. The art specialist would draw a few things that happened each day and the camp as a group would rate the day and mark it on the chart. Eventually by the end of the summer, one could look at the chart and see how the summer had progressed.

In 1982, Hilltop opened its first canteen. This was like a general store for the campers. The canteen sold candy bars, chips, soda, and ice cream bars. The canteen was finally closed in 1988 and replaced by K-GHC (AM 640), the camp radio station. This radio station lasted from 1988 to 1995. It ran on very simple technology; there was no transmitter because the device was plugged into the camp fuse box and transmitted through the wiring. The signal was not particularly strong but on a foggy day one could hear it all the way down at Hess Kramer.


Services were different from today as well. Until the late 1970s, services were held only on Shabbat and maybe once or twice a week. Hilltop started having daily services before Camp Hess Kramer, but they took place in the Teatron, instead of the Chapel. Currently, most services (with the exception of Wednesday morning Beach Day and alternative services) are held in the Chapel.Recent sessions have seen the expansion of services to other areas of camp. These experimental services, though rare, have taken place in such locations as: the swimming pool, the HAC, and the Campfire.

A recent addition to religious life at Hilltop has been the guest appearance each summer of a "Jewish rocker" for a concert (usually held in conjunction with Camp Hess Kramer). Past musical acts include Noam Katz, Rick Recht, Danny Nichols and Josh Nelson.

pecialty programs

One major creation of the 1980s was the Machon program. Designed for the oldest campers (10th grade), this was a precursor to the "Mitzvah" program and was based on "tikkun olam" and community service. Unfortunately, not much is known about the specifics of this program. One of their projects, however, has endured for many years - Machon Park, located near the lower volleyball court. (As of the summer of 2008, Machon Park has been renamed "Melissa's Vista.")

In 1992, Program Director Marsha Rothpan created the Mitzvah program, which continues to this day. This program is also based on "Tikkun Olam" and has left its legacy on camp through various Mitzvah projects.

Past Mitzvah projects have included: upgrading, re-tiling, painting and naming "the Mitzvah Lounge" (2002), decoration of the fire pit at the campfire (2005), creation of new Ark doors and wooden prayerbook containers (2006), and painting the Mitzvah Lounge (2007).

In 1995, the Counselor-in-Training (CIT) program began at Hilltop. There had been CITs at Hess Kramer since 1964, but amazingly there were never any CITs at Hilltop. The CIT program was briefly altered in 1998 with the introduction of the Avodah program. This program was not popular, and ended in the summer of 2000.

Threats to Camp

Due to its location, Hilltop has experienced various threats to its physical structure. In 1993, the Old Topanga Fire almost destroyed Hilltop and Hess Kramer. It spread through Yerba Buena canyon and advanced towards the cabin area at Hess Kramer. Former director Steve Breuer claims to have stood in front of the archery range with a hose battling the flames. Fortunately at Hess Kramer, the fire department was guarding each building. However, the fire moved rapidly up the hill towards Hilltop. It spread through the saddle, where you can still see charred bushes and trees today. It destroyed the old fire pit where campfires used to take place. The fire went up the hill to the Chapel and burned two of the benches on the side overlooking the ocean. The Chapel, however, was saved. Some say that it was an act of God, but it was at the least an incredible act of man that saved it. Just as everyone was about to give up hope, a plane flew overhead and dropped fire retardant. This was not the last time that Hilltop would have a close encounter with fire. On Memorial Day weekend, 2005, an unknown person threw a cigarette butt into the dumpster behind the Dining Hall, starting a fire that destroyed the Hilltop kitchen and severely damaged the rest of the building (see "Dining Hall Pavilion" section below).

List of Hilltop Directors

* Steve Makoff: 1969 - 1972
* Chuck Feldman: 1973-1982
* Rich Makoff: 1983-1987
* Bob Davis: 1988-1990
* Paul Kipnes: 1991-1992
* Melinda Panken: 1993
* Michele Schipper:1994
* Marci Goldberg: 1995-1998
* Adam Panish: 1998-1999
* Mark P. Miller: 1999-2000
* Tami Krichiver: 2001
* Rich P. Singer: 2002
* Mark P. Miller: 2003-2007
* Erin P. Ellis: 2006-2007
* Gersh Lazarow: 2008


There are 12 camper cabins at Hilltop, all of them named after sites in Israel. The Hilltop campers voted via ballots on the cabin names, choosing the current 12 from a list of over 30 (note: up to a point unknown by this editor, the campers choose different names for the cabins each summer.) Some of the rejected names included Machpela and Gaza. The boys cabins are Metzada, Sinai, Yam Suf, Carmel, Yericho, and Kinneret. The girl's cabins are Beit Lechem, Beit El, Yerushalayim, Gan Eden, Moriah, and Beer Sheva.

The two cabins at the end of the list, Moriah and Beer Sheva, are commonly referred to as the Pink Palaces. The Pink Palaces were erected in the early 1990s to replace four original cabins that were destroyed in a fire, believed to be started by a candle left burning in one of the cabins. The Pink Palaces look different from the rest of the cabins; the bathrooms are attached to the inside of the cabin, and they are made of pink-painted brick, not wood. In the new millennium, WBTC painted these two cabins brown in order to match the rest of the cabins.

There are two additional cabins located within the cabin area, Tel Dan and Ohel Moed. These two cabins are slightly removed from the rest, as they were originally intended to serve as living quarters for Hilltop's Counselors-in-Training (CIT). Currently, Tel Dan is both the CIT girls' and boys' cabin, while Ohel Moed is a video editing suite and storage room.

Outside of the cabin area there are two additional living quarters, the Lodge and the Upper Pink Palaces, which house non-counseling staff, kitchen staff, visiting staff members, and health personnel.

The Mount

The Hilltop Chapel is an outdoor place of worship, located at the southernmost point on the camp ground (though due to the geography of the area, this is the closest point to the Pacific Ocean), atop a small hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful and spiritual places on Earth. According to official WBTC literature, "Worshipers are inspired by the panorama of sea and sky before them at...the Chapel." Due to its natural beauty, the Chapel has not changed significantly since Hilltop opened.

Over the years, minor improvements and upgrades have been made; new benches were added in 2004, the ark doors were replaced in 2006, and a meditation garden was created at the entrance in 2006. The most significant recent additions are a giant mezuzah (pictured), walking path, and menorah. The mezuzah stands at the entrance to the chapel. The mezuzah was fashioned out of one of the roof beams from the old Dining Hall, and was constructed by both campers and staff members. During the off-season in 2007, a brick walking path and planters were added to the entrance of the Chapel. This not only added to the beauty of the Chapel, but also prevents worshipers from tripping on rocks commonly found in the old dirt path.

In the summer of 2007, the CITs constructed a giant wood menorah on the crest of the hill, overlooking both P.C.H. and the symbolic Hess Kramer menorah (which is represented in the WBTCamps logo). Similar to the mezuzah, the menorah is also fashioned from the old Dining Hall's beams.

Dining Hall Pavilion

The biggest building at Hilltop is the Dining Hall Pavilion, which is made up of the Chadar O’hel (Dining Hall) and Moadon (Meeting Place). The Chadar O’hel meals are open seating at round tables so campers can sit with different friends at every meal. At the front left of the Chadar O’hel is the kitchen. In the center of the room is a giant hearth, where birthday skits and Shabbat song sessions occur. To the front right of the Dining Hall is the entrance to the Moadon. The unique shape of the Dining Hall Pavilion gives a 200 degree panoramic view of the camp and the Pacific Ocean. Most campers and staff have fond memories of eating rice pilaf on Friday nights watching the sun slip behind the mountains in the most beautiful sunsets ever witnessed by (wo)man.

On Memorial Day Weekend, 2005, an unknown person threw a cigarette butt into the dumpsters behind the Dining Hall, starting a fire that destroyed the Hilltop kitchen and severely damaged the rest of the building. As the coming summer approached, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps staff quickly arranged the delivery of a portable kitchen (located on the back of two eighteen wheeler trailers) and the erection of two temporary tents to replace the lost building. The first week of the summer was extremely difficult for the staff and campers, as the burned out building stood as a ghost from summers past. The old Dining Hall was completely torn down, except for the hearth, in the Fall of 2005.

Construction progressed slowly throughout 2005 and 2006, but picked up considerably towards the summer of 2007. By summer 2007, the building appeared partially completed, and on October 14, 2007 the rebuilt facility was dedicated. The official name of the new building is the Rubin Family Dining Hall of the Hilltop Pavilion. The re-built Dining Hall and Moadon are slightly larger than the original construction. A new staff lounge has been built off of the Moadon. Despite the many hurdles during the rebuilding process (often causing those involved to stumble, bruising their pride), it has been decided that the strength you need comes from inside.

Evening programs

One of Hilltop's programmatic hallmarks is what is referred to as "the evening program". Generally speaking, this refers to an activity planned by the camp staff for the campers, which takes place following dinner and T'filah. The evening program is always kept a secret from the campers until it begins, usually with some type of opening skit that introduces the planned activities.

Evening programs vary in content, duration, location, and objective. In a typical summer, campers will participate in both new programs and old programs that the staff has reworked due to their original popularity.

Programs are often organized in three ways:
* Station based- Campers, in groups, rotate through a cycle of stations located around the camp grounds, where they take part in a specific activity at each station.
* Carnival/Chaos- Campers are free to roam between stations at their leisure.
* Multiple Universes- The camp is divided into half, and each partakes in the same activities. The use of universes allows for a more intimate environment and better understanding of program objectives, especially with educational programs.

Since Hilltop's inception, thousands of evening programs have taken place. Perennial favorites include "Making the Band", "Mission Impossible", "Gold Rush", "Bizarro Hilltop", "Cafe Hilltop", and "Teva Night". Other programs, though not repeated, have managed to make a large impact on Hilltop history in just one night. The first in a number of revolutionary programs was "The Great Potato Festival." This burst of creativity brought about the most commonly cited example of innovation, the Double Dare program, which (at least in recent Hilltop history) is generally considered to be the best evening program in memory. This program was hosted by Marc Summers, and most importantly, featured the sliming of many members of the camp administration.

Pioneer Days

Pioneer Days refers to the combination of sporting events and other games/competitions that take place over the course of 24 hours once per session at Hilltop. The name is derived from a nickname given to those who helped complete the building of Hilltop in 1969 (Junior Pioneers). To compete in these games, the camp is usually divided into four teams.

In the first Pioneer Days, many of the activities were based on actuall activities that American Pioneers did as they moved westward, like corn shucking, tilling the soil, and planting seeds. Later in the evening, the whole camp would eat corn with their dinner. Pioneer Days eventually gave way to Maccabiah, which was modeled after the Jewish Olympics. Pioneer Days was reborn, however, in 1997, with the 4 teams named after Israeli cities. Since then the teams and competitions have become more creative.

List of Pioneer Day teams

* 1st Session 2005: Teams Barbara Streisand (Winner), Steven Spielberg, Sandy Koufax, Adam Brody
* 2nd Session 2005: Teams Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw
* 1st Session 2006: Teams Papas, Mamas, Sons, Daughters
* 2nd Session 2006: Teams Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion
* 1st Session 2007: Teams Thimble, Iron, Car, Dog (Winner)
* 2nd Session 2007: Teams Ballerina (Winner), Fireman, Astronaut, President
* 1st Session 2008: Teams Chopsticks, Forks, Knives, Spoons (Winner)
* 2nd Session 2008: Teams Grilled (winner), Macaroni and, Cottage, Bleu Cheeses


Music has long played an important role at camp. Song session happens twice a day, once after lunch and once after dinner. Song sessions contain a mix of Jewish songs and songs that contain Jewish morals but may not make specific references to Judaism, such as "Danny's Song", by Kenny Loggins, and "Father and Son", by Cat Stevens. For many years, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps had their own songbook. In the summer of 2005, a new song book endorsed by NFTY was introduced to camp that did not contain many traditional camp secular songs.


Hilltop has long been on the forefront of summer camp media.Fact|date=August 2008 Until 1996, Hilltop campers could broadcast from a radio station located on-site. The station was shut down, however, due to the rising costs of keeping it running, and the fact that the station was not approved by the Federal Communications Commission. This has been termed by many as ironic, since one prominent Hilltop staff member would later go on to work as an intern for the Office of Inspector General of the FCC. During the winter season of 2007, the old radio shack was torn down. The three current major media programs are in the disciplines of video, journalism, and photography.

The video program at Hilltop began in earnest in 1995. It was originally run by Nechmad ben Ishai, husband of then religious school director Anat Ben Ishai. The final video was crash-edited off-site in a studio using two VHS decks. It began as strictly a video montage set to music. In 1996 it moved into a small closet in the Moadon. In its current form, the video consists of skits (often parodies of pop-culture or camp traditions), montages (footage of camp activities, such as Shabbat, Pioneer Days, etc., set to music), and a picture slideshow. The video premieres on the evening of the last Saturday of each session.

The journalism program produces Hilltop's weekly newspaper, "The TreeHugger Times". The newspaper was established in 2005, and its first issue was 3 pages. Now entering its third year in production, "The TreeHugger Times" often reaches 8 pages per issue.

The photography program allows campers to explore their creativity with black and white, abstract, and underwater photography. The first public gallery viewings occurred in the summer 2005, with expansion in the 2006 season.


Banquet refers to the last dinner of the session at Hilltop. Traditionally, the meal is served to the campers by counselors. Every session, there is a theme to the banquet, which is always kept secret until the time of the meal. Past themes have included "Back to the Future", Costco, Long Island Bat Mitzvah, the Desert, Broadway Musicals, the Zoo, Biomes, The Post Office, "Alice in Wonderland", and Life in the Cereal Aisle.

Camp Cheers

Protocol at Hilltop dictates that after the full name of "Gindling Hilltop Camp" is said aloud, all campers and staff present must respond with two claps. In past years, the claps were also followed by a camp cheer, although that practice has been discontinued as of late.

There are many other traditional cheers at Hilltop that are used in a variety of occasions.
* At the end of a competition: "Everyone's a winner at GHC" Or, "Personal growth, Not competition"
* At the start of rest hour: "Ooo, ahh, menucha"
* To recognize someone's achievement: "Haya tov, haya tov, haya tov meod meod- I'm Don Ameche, beep beep (x2):Alternative version "': "Haya tov, haya tov, haya tov meod meod- ay yof ay yofi ay yofi metzyun
* At the end of a meal: "Special (often screamed or sung) followed by a rhythmic banging and repeating of "special."

Cheers that are no longer said at Hilltop:
* Every time free choice was said: "Woof(With hand motion)"
* At the point in which a winner of some competition is announced: "It just doesn't matter (x2)"

Notable alumni

*Aron Coleite - Writer/Producer ("Heroes")
*Lizzy Caplan - Actress ("Mean Girls")
*Cami Edwards - star of ""
*Kevin Weisman - star of "Alias
*Josh Rosinsky - Writer/Producer ("Entourage")
*Michelle Citrin - singer/ songwriter

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