Memorial endowment will pay for teens’ trips to Israel

BY MIKE SHERWIN

OF THE JEWISH LIGHT STAFF

One family has found a fitting tribute for a father who died prematurely.

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Brad Gershenson was only 37 years old when he contracted pneumonia and died of sepsis in November of 2000, leaving behind his wife and their two young daughters.

Six years later, his sister, Shelley Sarver, and her husband, Jay, sought to memorialize Gershenson with a charitable endowment. The Sarvers worked with the Jewish Federation to find a cause that would combine support for Israel with something with deep meaning during Gershenson’s life.

The Sarvers decided to create the Brad Gershenson Endowment for Teen Travel to Israel, which will be administered through Camp Sabra, the JCC’s residential camp in the Lake of the Ozarks.

They approached Gershenson’s widow, Michelle Gershenson Bowers, who is now remarried and living in Chicago, and she agreed that it would be “a meaningful tie-in with Brad’s background.”

Camp Sabra offers an annual four-week trip to Israel for 11th-graders.

The Gershenson family has a long history with Camp Sabra. Gershenson’s father, Harvey, was the first camper enrolled at the camp in 1938, which at the time was called Camp Hawthorne.

“This family is really legendary with this camp,” said Ken Weintraub, senior development officer at the Jewish Federation.

“My father was the first camper at the camp and all of us kids went to the camp at some point,” Sarver said.

Brad Gershenson spent summers between 1972 and 1978 at the camp, according to his brother, Mark Gershenson.

“He loved water-skiing, sailing and team sports,” he said.

“My brother was very philanthropic. He achieved financial success early in life and he helped support College Bound, a Chicago organization that helps send urban kids to college,” Mark Gershenson said.

“He was also a supporter of the Jewish Federation and from his love of Camp Sabra and his interest in Jewish causes, this is a fitting tribute,” he said.

Mark and Brad Gershenson traveled to Israel in 1975, shortly after Brad’s bar mitzvah. The family describes that trip as a poignant one for Brad.

Camp Sabra’s four-week trip to Israel is done through the JCC Maccabi Israel Summer Program.

Jeff Rose, director of Camp Sabra, said the trip typically costs around $5,000, although participants can use funds saved through the Passport to Israel program.

“We offer the trip every year, and we feel it is very important to offer an Israel experience,” he said.

“Sometimes, it’s not the best sell these days, especially with the birthright trips, but what we offer is a better rounded experience, with four weeks, rather than 10 days.”

With the endowment, Rose said, he hopes that teens will take advantage of the scholarship and apply.

“A four-week experience is a very thorough experience where kids will really learn about the country, and they’ll have a wonderful time,” Rose said.

The first recipient of the Gershenson scholarship will be eligible to travel in the summer of 2007.

To apply for the scholarship, contact Camp Sabra Director Jeff Rose at 314-442-3246.