Summer Camp Rules
I just listened to “Notes on Camp,” an episode of National Public Radio’s excellent program, This American Life. This, along with the recent Slate article “You Are How You Camped” by Timothy Noah, and this Eric Siminoff’s superb edited volume, Sleepaway, has made me very nostalgic for my summer camp days.
The funny thing is, I never really enjoyed summer camp. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I spent six summers at camp, and I liked two of them. For baseball, that’s pretty good, but not for summer camping. Both my parents went to camp and loved it. My sisters also went to camp and had mostly positive experiences.
I went to Camp Chateaugay, a private camp near the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York, from 1992-1993 and 1995-1996.
The summer in between, 1994, I tried out Camp Manitou, an all-boys sports camp in the Belgrade Lakes region of Maine. I broke my foot the first hour I was there (trying to dunk on one of their shorter basketball nets) and left a few days after, spending the summer watching the World Cup and the Montreal Expos achieve the best record in baseball before the August 12 strike hit, I digress). So I don’t really count that year.
In the summer 1997, I went on a 7 week Israel trip with my high school.
In 1998, I was a counselor-in-training (C.I.T.) at Camp Kingswood, a Jewish camp in Bridgton, Maine run out of the JCC of Newton, Mass. I had a good time so returned the following summer, 1999, as a counselor. That was my last summer at camp.
I often think I liked the idea of camp more than camp itself. And that’s certainly true now. Last summer, I visited my wife’s camp, Camp Young Judea (a Zionist camp, though not affiliated with the youth group of the same name)in Amherst, New Hampshire for a reunion, and I felt nostalgic for good times I never really had. But I always wanted to have those good times, those experiences. Listening to the This American Life episode made me realize that camp was a meaningful experience to me even though I didn’t love it. My wife loved camp, and I was able to experience a vicarious joy going back there with her.
Of course, there were things I remembered fondly of my own camp experience: ghost stories, hiking trips, playing sports, catching frogs, water-skiing, hooking up with girls (okay, just one girl) for the first time. I remember feeling exactly like one of the kids in the NPR show said, that a day at camp is like two weeks in the real world.
There’s already a bunch of scholarship out there on Jewish summer camps, from Michael Lorge and Gary Zola’s edited volume, A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping, to Riv-Ellen Prell’s recent work on the impact of Jewish summer camps on the American Civil Rights movement. My father always said that one could do a great study on how many Jewish couples met at summer camp. He suspects the number would be quite high.
In any case, I would love to contribute to this scholarship myself one day. And when I have children of my own, I hope to send them to summer camp too.