Jewish Institute Busy Planning for Its 50th Anniversary : Santa Susana: Brandeis-Bardin does not emphasize any particular denomination, but gives people the chance to rediscover their heritage.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At one end of the sprawling campground in the hills above Simi Valley, Jewish boys and girls join in an Israeli folk dance, while young adults gather at another site to share views on mixed marriages.

Brandeis-Bardin Institute, an educational center where Jewish people of all ages gather from throughout the world, is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in the fall.

During summer camps and weekend retreats held year-round at the Santa Susana center, visitors can rediscover their heritage and culture through dance, music, art, seminars and recreational activities, said Alvin Mars, executive vice president of the institute.

Mars said a series of events, which will include concerts and a community fair, are planned in the fall and will continue through the spring.

The institute moved to Santa Susana from its home base in New York in 1947.

Although the institute has grown over the years--a new infirmary, swimming pool and sports field were recently added--its purpose has remained the same.

"Our dream is that people that come here are touched by their Jewish experience and will live deeper and more meaningful lives," Mars said.

Most of the camp's directors and counselors first came to the institute as youngsters.

"I came to the camp 13 years ago and fell in love with the place," said Eddie Harwitz, now 28 and director of Camp Alonim, a children's summer camp that is one of three camps within the institute, which is located off Pepper Tree Lane. Participants in the institute are divided by age group.

"It allowed me to feel good about who I was," said Harwitz, who is studying to be a rabbi. "It helped me develop a sense of pride and connection with Jewish life."

Participants in adult-education programs during two separate summer sessions have come from all over world. The latest group includes members from as far away as England, Sweden and Hawaii, and as close as San Diego and Thousand Oaks.

Officials said the educational programs offered by Brandeis-Bardin are different from those at other Jewish camps around the country because there is no emphasis on any particular denomination of Judaism.

"We don't teach how you should practice your religion," Brandeis spokeswoman Melanie Gross said. "We teach the importance of Judaism. We teach who we are, rather than how to be. That's one of the reasons we've lasted 50 years."

Granada Hills resident Jordan Scharnotsky, a member of the adult education program, agreed.

"You don't just talk about all issues of Judaism, but how everyone feels about themselves," said Scharnotsky, 24. "You make your own decisions about Judaism."

For others, the experience has reconfirmed their beliefs.

Tora Kauffman, a 21-year-old from Hawaii, said she is more determined to marry a Jew than ever before because she does not want to risk losing her identity.

"Being a Jew--it's more than a religion," she said. "It's a way of life."

Concerned that young American Jews were abandoning their religion and culture, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis and noted educator Shlomo Bardin founded the institute in 1941 in Hancock, N. Y.

Brandeis died the same year and eventually Bardin decided to move the institute to California, where weather would permit him to operate in all seasons. He found the rustic setting of Santa Susana and its rolling hills reminiscent of Palestine and purchased 2,200 acres for the campus in 1947. It has since grown to 3,100 acres.

"Our dream is that people who come here and are touched by their Jewish experience can live deeper and more meaningful lives," Mars said. "This is not only for the purpose of the Jewish people but to make the world a better place for everyone."

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