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The competition of the two teams was so cutthroat that we would avoid conversing with the other team, especially during color war and sports war. It was on these occasions, and when the now-deceased grand rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, would visit, that the creative and artistic souls among us got a chance to shine. Looking back at some of my glossy developed photos, I am in awe of the artistry and talent we exhibited. From carving fiddles and stars out of wood to pasting Popsicle sticks into miniature houses in the shape of shoes, we were prolific and creative.
In our free time we produced elaborate mock weddings, baked bread pizzas in home-bought sandwich presses and flooded our bunks with water for amusement, dancing in shower slippers and floral housecoats, until the head counselor reprimanded us.
My most vivid memories of Machne Rav Tov are of Friday night meals. For the Sabbath, most girls received pekelekh, care packages, from home. We would run over to the designated mail spot on Friday afternoons and rummage through the boxes to find our own. Some girls got moving-size boxes full of jellies and snack packs, but I usually received a small box containing two home-baked bilkelekh, which are small challahs, along with some traditional tomato dip and a bag of home-baked rugelach, among other simple food items. Every bite of challah filled me with longing and nostalgia for home. We would eat through our care packages and sing for hours the familiar hometown Sabbath songs. When one of the male figures in the camp would make his way up the lunchroom path, he would send someone to alert us of his arrival so that we could hush the singing. (Orthodox men are prohibited from hearing a woman sing, a rule known as kol isha.)
Four weeks flew by quickly. At the end of the summer, I left feeling satisfied and terribly hoarse. Despite the fact that my camp experience was not all positive (I did dread sharing my personal space with so many others), and that I was feeling rather homesick toward the end, I cried a little before I left. New friends from different towns exchanged phone numbers and addresses and promised to stay in touch over the winter. I kept up a correspondence with one Williamsburg girl for some time over the next few years.
It’s hard to believe that now I am not far off from sending my own child to sleep-away camp — where I hope he will not have to scrub toilets and floors. Although, I’m sure that would benefit his mother greatly.
Frimet Goldberger is a frequent contributor to the Forward.