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Am I even Jewish without camp? Dear Abbys dish on this and other questions.

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. In 2020, we are reviving the signature advice column, helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in this digital age. Send your questions to [email protected].

Illustration by Liana Finck

Image by Liana finck

Am I even Jewish without camp?

Dear Abbys,

I’m a camp counselor and it looks like camp might be cancelled this summer. But that’s where I do most of my “Jewish stuff.” How can I bring summer camp Judaism into my life if camp is cancelled?

Summer-Camp Jew

Dear Summer Camp Jew, If someone had told one of us, at 18, that her arts camp had been cancelled, the last thing we would have said was, “but that’s where I get my ‘art stuff.’” It would have been more like: BUT NOW I MIGHT DIE! I CAN’T [soooooooooooooob] LIVE WITHOUT CAMP!

We know that camp has a way of instilling Jewish values in a super special/menschy way — but the actual Jewish stuff you can get right this very second. You can attend online services, make havdalah, bake challah or kugel or matzah ball soup, make some masks as a tikkun olam project.

But we get that none of this replaces the magic of Jewish sleepaway camp. So much of camp is about being away from home, letting your leg hair grow out, being part of this relatively adult-free community where Color War and Talent Night are life-changing events. One of us Abbys loved camp because she got to be part of a crazy band of artists for a full two months. The other Abby hated camp, but did learn how to swim and memorize all the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Italian Restaurant.” Neither of us would go back and do it any differently.

Feeling overwhelmed? Need advice? Contemplating murdering your kids/spouse/roommate? We gotchu — write to [email protected].

If social-distancing restrictions continue and cancel camp this summer, you won’t be able to smell the soot of a campfire or feel the cling of sweaty socks as everyone sways and sings “Cats in the Cradle” — and that SUCKS. The idea of Zoom Camp is utterly absurd.

Perhaps the bigger conundrum is this: How can we, as Jews, bring the feeling of Jewish summer camp into the rest of our Jewish lives? Why is it so different from Saturday services? Why does it instill such a deep devotion, nostalgia and longing? Why do 40 and 50 and 60 year olds still wax poetic about Jewish summer camp? Why can’t we have that sort of experience — or approximation of it — all year round? What would that look like?

kid in baseball cap

Image by Liana finck

Help — my toddler won’t toddle!

Dear Abbys,

My two year old won’t move her body. What do I do? What will happen to her if she continues to sit?

Toddler Mom

Dear Toddler Mom,

Does she walk from her bed to the potty? From the potty to the kitchen table? From the kitchen table to the backyard/living room/bathtub?

We’re in a pandemic. She’s fine.

Life is art anyway

Dear Abbys,

I’m an artist and I feel immense pressure to create right now, but all I can seem to do is journal and clean out closets. The guilt is killing me. Thoughts?

Signed, Nowhere Near the Grindstone

Dear Nowhere,

A few days into quarantine, one of our cousins sent a text with this Rosanne Cash quote: Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote ‘King Lear.’

As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.

A woman runs away from an unseen threat under a crescent moon.

Image by Liana finck

We’re not talking to that cousin any more.

Listen up, Nowhere. Guilt is a time suck and pressure only makes diamonds if you have some highly organized carbon atoms at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. So let’s throw those both out with your Memorial Day barbecue plans and talk about what’s actually feasible during this unprecedented time, shall we?

You are an artist. Expand your concept of what that means. You’re keeping a journal — that’s a new artistic habit. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, that lays out basically a 12-step program to journaling and making art in your daily life. And on The Isolation Journals, the writer Suleika Jaouad is offering artist prompts, with a different writer, dancer, singer, musical or visual artist sharing a personal story and nugget of inspiration each day. It is literally the one thing that has kept us Abbys hopeful this past month/year/whatistimeanyway.

We Abbys have also decided that repotting plants, untangling hair and baking sourdough count as art. And that Shakespeare was a showoff.

Abby Sher and Abby Rasminsky are writers living in, respectively, Maplewood, N.J., and Los Angeles. Got a question? Submit your questions to [email protected].


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