‘We both knew camp was a privilege’

Let me begin by telling you that I know this is frivolous. We are in the middle of a horrific pandemic that has upended our lives; more importantly, it has ended tens of thousands of lives

But there is another situation that threatens our expectations: Summer is over before it has started—some day and overnight summer camps are canceling summer.

I am well past the age of the average camper—heck, the average counselor or camp director— but I still feel this deeply. I went to day camp, and when I was old enough, I attended a co-ed Jewish overnight camp in New Hampshire, Camp Naticook, with my brother Geoffrey who had preceded me at Naticook by three years.

My camp was not one where you slept under the stars, endured heavy rains, or foraged for food. No, we slept in bunks (with beds more like six inches than six feet apart), and when rain kept us from normal activities, we banged on the tables at breakfast, demanding “roller skating, roller skating.” When our camp director saw there would be no letup in the rain (or the loud request), word would spread quickly throughout the boys’ and girls’ area that we would be going roller skating after lunch at a big rink just a short bus ride away. On one occasion, I remember a counselor daring me to hold hands with my fifth-grade boyfriend as we skated in circles (I think I did).

So, when my 24-year-old daughter—who usually works in Washington, DC, but is now working at our home near Boston—announced last week that her former camp in The Berkshires would not open this summer, my heart sank. While there are many situations I could never have imagined (people in masks hoping for a miracle from a pharmaceutical company named Gilead), this one hit hard. Camp. No camp? How is that possible?

I internalized the lessons I learned at camp: teamwork, joy in winning team sports and disappointment in losing to a long-time competitor. Being encouraged to try new things, find joy in new friendships and develop independence while away from home.

Scribe | ‘We both knew camp was a privilege’

I can still feel the excitement and anticipation of getting ready for camp. My mother would take me to Turnstyle, a Target-like store, to buy (and when I think back, overbuy) shampoo, toothpaste and the like. I have a vision of a cart filled with essentials and not so essentials.

But I also knew that spending the summer at overnight camp stretched my parents’ finances beyond comfortable. There were years where my brother and I weren’t sure we could both go to camp for the whole summer. Somehow our parents made it work, but our years at overnight camp were never assumed or taken for granted; we both knew this was a privilege.

Among the most magical moments: Shabbat. All activities stopped in the late afternoon, we showered, blow-dried our hair, and dressed in white from head to toe. The dining hall looked extra clean, especially with everyone dressed in all white. Our camp director lit the Shabbos candles, her husband recited the kiddush, and the entire dining hall said the Hamotzi. We sang songs after dinner, had services in a beautiful grove by the lake and then went to the rec hall for a night of Israeli dancing. Even now, some 50+ years later, summers are still measured in camp memories, especially on Shabbat.

It was a place where we could be whoever we wanted to be. We were free from parental control and given the opportunity to experience things we might not have in our 10-month experience at home—in a word it was freeing. It was a place to make new friends, reunite with old ones, experience sheer joy and cry a flood of tears when it was time to pack up our trunks and head home.

So, to all those who will not be going to camp for the first time or not returning for your tenth summer, I feel your pain. I know that the spirit and lessons learned at camp will help you endure whatever kind of summer you make for yourself and others this summer.

And be sure to remember that your parents have lost something here too — so be kind!

Rose A. Lewis is the author of four children’s books including The New York Times bestseller, “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

‘We both knew camp was a privilege’

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