Earlier this year, I took a look at how to choose the perfect summer camp for your children. Well, by now, the choice is made, you’re ironing on the labels and your kids are practically out the door.
Before they go, take a few minutes to stroll down memory lane to remember your own experiences and to soak in the ones others have shared online.
- “At 16 years old, instead of suffering through what I feared would be a summer of competing for popularity, I discovered the meaning of kehilah, community. … like spending all day choreographing a Shabbat staff dance in 100 degree heat. My summer days were soon filled with these moments of blissful existence. … Even now, a decade and a half later, I can still remember so many different days like the one practicing that dance. At no other point in my life, except I think in the first weeks when my son was born, do I have this kind of deep and full memory of so many moments. To me that’s the ultimate measure of ‘did I spend my days well?’. Thank you Joel Charnick, our camp director, and Camp JCA Shalom for the most full days of my life.”
- “I found myself at camp, shipped off at 12 years old, scared and nervous. Immediately upon entering I remember a sense that this was going to be alright, no it might even be good, maybe great. I spent 4 amazing years building my independence, finding my voice and experiencing my camp family. If not for camp, I am not sure I would be here breathing today.”
Writing at JewishPress.com, Sudy Rosengarten’s Memories Of Camp Bais Yaakov go way back to 1944, when religious Jewish camps for girls were practically non-existent. She paints lovely pictures of summer at camp, fasting on Tisha B’av, and even her sister’s skills at mimicking the camp’s director, Rabbi Neuhouse. But my favourite vignette is of the girls sailing off for camp (literally) as they embark at the 42nd Street Ferry Terminal.
- “‘You are the pioneers,’ [Rabbi Neuhouse] cried out in a thick accent, ‘to whom, one day the Jewish nation will give thanks. With your foresight and sacrifice, we will push out the walls of the tiny frum world that now exists and extend it to the far corners of the world.’ As he spoke, the terminal became strangely quiet. I looked around. Everyone seemed to be under the man’s spell. And then, spreading wide his arms, to include us all in the historic moment, he cried out:, ‘Chaverot, Achdut’ – ‘Together as one.’ And, totally unrehearsed, in a spontaneous roar, we all answered, ‘B’achdut nichye!’ – ‘In unity we live!’”
If you ever spent a summer at camp and want to relive those long ago joys (and traumas) then don’t miss The Girls of Summer by Geraldine Sherman. Sherman was a camper at Camp Kawagama in the 1950s in northern Ontario. Her story begins as she and her childhood friends attend the funeral of their beloved camp director. With the help of the Girls of Cabin 22, she looks at how a summer camp almost half a century away molded who they became. Even the picture on the website of Sherman and the Kawagamite girls in their plaid shirts and broad grins will bring smiles and a touch of melancholy to anyone who’s been there and done that.
Micah Hart has a lot in common with Jon Marcus, the summer camp owner’s son. Micah’s father was director of Jacobs Camp, a Reform Jewish camp in western Mississippi. But that’s where Micah and Jon’s stories diverge. In order to give him some independence, Micah spent half of his summers at another Reform camp, Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Ind. Maybe that’s why for Micah Hart, summer camp has become a lifelong passion via his podcast, Campfires and Color Wars.
Over 57 episodes (and counting), Hart waxes nostalgic and kibitzes with fellow summer camp alumni about that special time in their lives. As he introduces himself, he says, “I’m Micah Hart and for the next 45 minutes or so, we’re going to press pause on the world around us, transport back to the days of our adolescence when the school year was just one long rest-hour between days at camp.”
How has Hart been able to fill 57 episodes? Not a problem. You can hear about making out, getting fired, how summer love became lifelong marriages, and of course, pranks (like crickets in your sleeping bag, raiding the kitchen, hoisting underwear on the flagpole and that classic, peeing on plastic wrap that encases the cabin toilet.
Non-campers are certainly welcome to listen in to experience vicarious summer camp nostalgia. But Hart isn’t sure it’ll work. “If you didn’t go to camp, I don’t know what would interest you about it. You had to be there to understand it.”
Next time, the memories continue as we meet some reluctant campers.