Home Living Jewish Summer camp memories: The parents – Part 3

Summer camp memories: The parents – Part 3

PJ Library and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Silber Centre for Jewish Camping invited parents and children to visit Camp Shalom and Camp Northland-B’nai Brith.

School’s out for summer. And for most kids that means no more pencils, no more books – and for the lucky ones, no more iPhones, no more Instagram because they’re starting a summer of fresh air, friendships and memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.

In my previous columns, I focused on the campers. By what about the parents they left stranded back in the city? Here are some vignettes from Sarah Moore’s Parents do the Darndest Things.

  • “To his profound embarrassment, one 12-year-old camper opened his trunk and discovered his mom had packed all his clothes in 14 separate zip-top bags. As he was to be at camp for two weeks, there were 14 pairs of socks, 14 pairs of underwear, 14 T-shirts – one complete outfit per bag.”
  • “In the early spring, one camp got a call from a parent desperate to get his child in the sold-out July program. ‘I kept telling him there simply was no room,’ says the camp administrator. Not willing to take no for an answer, this dad offered to drive up to camp that weekend and build another cabin.”
  • And then there was a parent, a TV talk-show host whose son went to a camp in Muskoka, Ontario. “She had promised her 15-year-old he could come to Toronto one night during camp to attend a rock concert. Asked by the camp director how she planned to get him to and from the concert, the talk-show fashionista sniffed, ‘Me? I’m not going to drive him, you are.’”


Unhappy Campers: Letters to Mom and Dad

Once their kids are off to camp, parents will fret until they get mail. Then they may fret even more. (Many camps don’t allow campers to access electronic devices. So they have to write their letters the old-fashioned way after which they are scanned and dispatched to their parents.) Eileen Goltz accumulated some choice letters from campers.

  • First-time camp mom Sandy Hitzman got a letter from her 11-year-old saying, “I’m all right now” and I “didn’t know a cut on the head could bleed so much.”
  • Stevie Palmer wrote that his cabin was going to see a cannibal and that he was afraid. False alarm. The trip was actually to Cape Canaveral. (And no one was eaten.)
  • And after two weeks at camp, one postcard home started with “My counsellor is a witch. I hate everyone in the cabin. But other than that, I’m having a great time.”

Here are some more from Diane Falanga’s hilarious book, P.S. I HATE IT HERE: Kids’ Letters from Camp.

  • Dear Mom and Dad. I’m having a great time at camp. Not!
  • My finger got smashed under a canoe. Swelled extra huge and then turned green. But Zach the health guy put acid on it. I exploded with puss.
  • By the way Dad, I know that this is a co-ed camp, but all the boys are ugly, dorky and blech. So no need to worry.
  • Dear mom, Day 5 of camp is a lot better. The rash on my p-nus is gone, and now I can run. My friends hate when I say eggs so I’m trying to stop saying it. Love, Josh


And before you know it, visiting day will be here. For me, visiting day was always a bittersweet affair. It was a collision of realities – my parents had invaded my summertime sanctuary. But it was also a time to shine and introduce my real parents to the custodians they had entrusted me to.


As visiting day approached for New York Times columnist Frank Rich, he began to wonder why summer camp has become so woven into North American Jewish life. “Is it because so many Jewish families are so close that they must be wrested apart by the enforced separation that camp brings?

“Like every parent, I want to believe that my own sons have no need of such an escape, and that their stay at camp is merely a vacation, not a rite of passage. But they’re having too much fun for that. If visiting day is a melancholy experience for parents, it’s not just because our own camping days are long over but because we see there’s a part of our children that will never again come home.”

What those parents see on visiting day will probably look pretty familiar. Kids and trees and smiles that will remind them of their own days at camp. The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has created a series of Facebook pages where former campers can share their Camp Memories. As the page explains, “this project aims to curate a ‘Living History’ of Jewish summer camp by bringing legacies to life through capturing and collecting camp memorabilia, including murals, plaques, and of course, images of this legendary wall art.

“Through this online archive, we hope to provide an opportunity for our community to reminisce about and share their own camp story, reconnect with old friends, and generate excitement about the value of this experience for the next generation of Jewish campers.” There are links to pages for camps Shalom, Northland, Moshava, George, Gesher, Shomriah and Ramah. (Alas, there is no page for my late, beloved Camp Massad of Ontario, but we do maintain our own Facebook page.)

The New York Times recently published a joyful photo essay, Goodbye Muddah, Goodbye Fadduh: Vintage Photos Of Joy, Adventure and Homesickness at Summer Camp. The pictures date back to 1933 but the smiles and hugs and marshmallows could have been from yesterday. The pictures are heartwarming as are the comments on the article, one of which I will leave you with. It comes from Amy Liebschutz of New York City.

“I was lucky enough to go to idyllic Camp Arowhon on Teepee Lake in the stunning wilderness of Algonquin Park, Canada. We canoed, sailed, swam, windsurfed, rode horses, played tennis and went on canoe trips in the pristine waters, it was heaven on earth. This coming Monday, I am driving from NYC to Montreal to spend three days with two of my girlfriends from camp. We spent 10 very formative summers together from the ages of 10 through 20, and we try to meet annually. Thanks to Facebook, I have been reunited with many of my camp friends, many of which date back to 1968. We all shared an amazing, life altering experience at camp.”

To all campers, old and new, have a fantastic summer!

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