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I live in camp country. Our health services already struggle. Camp this summer could destroy us.

I live in camp country. We got about six inches of snow last night… yes, in May. My kids regularly get on their bikes with their fishing rods balanced on the handlebars (makes for easy social distancing) and head to one of the 330 lakes in our city limits. They build forts in the greenspace behind our house

I live in a suburban area and I regularly hear loons calling mournfully as I lie in bed at night. Getting kosher food is no picnic and we have to do Hebrew school online, but in many other ways it’s a pretty idyllic place to live.

My kids and I participated in Zoom Havdalah last week with their URJ Camp community. There were lots of tears as campers and staff saw each other’s faces and came to grips with the fact that they wouldn’t be seeing each other in person for a very long time. Both kids had unit meetings this week that were sweet and sad and a bit awkward; we’re all trying to figure out how this post-camp world works and it involves a fair bit of stumbling.

I rely on camp to give my kids a sense of Jewish community that they just can’t get in our small city, no matter how great our synagogue family is.

I’ll never forget the first time I took my son to Shabbat dinner at the Jewish camp near our house. He was about four years old and he looked around wide-eyed at the dining hall full of teenagers and staff, scooted down the bench towards me and whispered: “Is everyone here really Jewish, Mommy?”

It was a revelation.

His camp friends mean the world to him and he participates in Shabbat services by the camp waterfront with an enthusiasm that I can only dream about on a cold Friday evening in December when the sun sets at 4 p.m.

Small communities like ours that are already quite spread out and isolated geographically from major urban centers have thus far avoided the worst of this outbreak. We’re a bit protected because we already have distance in our favor. But our isolation also makes us vulnerable.

The camp my kids attend is just down the highway from where we live. The nearest town, Parry Sound, has a year-round population of 6,500. In the summer, it swells to nearly 100,000 people. Their hospital has six intensive care beds. The community where I live has a bigger hospital with 29 intensive care beds and 12 beds in a step-down ICU. Our hospital is usually at or over capacity all the time.

The most compelling reason for cancelling camp this summer is that the health systems in small communities simply can’t absorb the health care needs of thousands of additional visitors right now and we can’t manage the outbreak that might accompany them. Camps have the potential to create one of these secondary waves we’ve been warned about and, if they do, it will be in communities that don’t have the capacity to handle them. Our healthcare resources are scaled to our small populations and we already struggle to serve our own citizens as rural and northern communities tend to be less healthy and wealthy than urban communities.

So, while I feel your pain about the loss of camp this year as a parent, as a community leader and as a Jew for whom camp is an essential piece in the process of building a Jewish identity l’dor v’dor, I know it is the only responsible decision camps can make right now. I appreciate that my kids’ camp has thought about the impact they might have on communities like mine if camp wasn’t cancelled. I appreciate that they care enough about us to protect us.

We all know this won’t be forever and that they’ll all be back by the lake soon enough, fishing poles in hands and kippahs on heads, singing Havdalah off-key.

Emily Caruso Parnell lives in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada where she is a mother of two, an elementary school administrator, a ballet teacher, a university lecturer, a doctoral student and a Jewish community leader. In her spare time she writes for publications such as Kveller, the Canadian Jewish News and BAM Radio Network.

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