Jan. 11, 2008
Looking for a match at camp?
Are you sending your eight-year-old off to camp this summer in the hopes that he'll meet the girl of his dreams? Seriously, I recently heard that many Jewish parents send their kids to Jewish camp so they'll meet a Jewish spouse. For this reason, the same person told me, they don't want non-Jewish campers in the mix. Maybe I'm out in left field, but I actually found this shocking.
My kids have been going to camp for many years and I never even considered a long-term ulterior motive to their summer fun. But come to think of it, I actually know quite a few couples who met and fell in love at camp; some even chose to get married on that hallowed ground.
No doubt it would make my children's lives less complicated if they found Jewish spouses – not to mention that it would help to ensure that my grandchildren would break matzah with me at Pesach, but somehow the thought of sending my kids to camp to facilitate such a match seems a little sinister to me.
So, that got me thinking about why I chose to send my kids to Jewish camp. I say "I" and not "we" because never having gone to any sort of camp, my husband didn't get much of a say in this decision. I say "chose" and not "choose" because the first year the decision was mine, since then the decision's been all their's. We even tried to tempt them to take a year off with a family trip to Europe last summer, but we had no takers – a result that truly shocked my non-camping husband.
But I digress. It's simple really. I chose Jewish summer camp for my kids because that's where I went. My memories of camp are so thick and rich and cherished that I just had to give my kids a chance to experience some of what I was privileged to enjoy.
I grew up in a non-practising house. In my elementary school, there was one other Jewish boy – and he had a Christmas tree every December. Sure, I went to Hebrew school, but those were the old days and it was pure torture, even to a keen student like me. I hated everything to do with Hebrew school and didn't make any effort at all to get to know the kids in my class. So, by the time I headed to camp after Grade 3, I can truly say that I didn't have a Jewish friend in the world.
I brought my best friend to camp with me. She wasn't Jewish but her parents were liberal enough to let her come and together the two of us learned about my religion.
Seriously, I didn't even know about keeping kosher until I was called for dish duty that first summer (yep, the Hebrew school experience really paid off for me). But I learned; I learned a lot – about my religion and my culture. And my non-Jewish friend and I continued to learn summer after summer. There is no doubt in my mind that my Jewish identity was formed at camp, alongside my non-Jewish friend and the myriad Jewish kids we met there.
Believe me, there were boys, lots of them. First crushes and first kisses. Lots and lots of crushes (and kisses). Just recalling the names of those boys still brings a twinge to my stomach and a weakness to my knees even more than two decades after all those summers of lusting after them.
There were Sadie Hawkins dances and quiet Shabbat moments with those boys. There were late-night raids just so we could see them (or more accurately, so they could see us) in pajamas and lots of nights sleeping under the stars alongside those boys.
But, perhaps to my parents' chagrin, I never married any of those boys, never even got close – despite spending numerous intimate summers with them.
Nope, I found myself a nice non-Jewish boy with whom to fall in love. And the funny thing is, at the time I didn't so much regret that he wasn't Jewish as that he never went to camp. I was sorry that I couldn't share those memories, that camp feeling, with him. But I loved him and we had lots of other passions to share, so I figured we would get over the camp thing. We did. And, much to my shock, four years and two babies into our marriage, he decided to convert. I never expected him to, I never asked him to, but I'll be the first to admit that it was the best gift I ever received from him. So, it's not that I wouldn't be happy for my kids to find a Jewish partner, it's just that that's not why I send them to camp.
I send my kids to camp to enrich their Jewish and social identities. I send them to camp to help foster independence and self-confidence. I send them to camp so they can learn about their heritage, about social justice and about the world. I want them to have the intimate experience of living in close-quarters with people who aren't their relatives; I want them to develop healthy relationships with idealistic young adults who choose to spend their summers in the grueling but rewarding role as camp counsellors. There is something incredibly extraordinary and almost indescribable about Jewish camp that I don't think is easily found in other camps. My kids have already had the good fortune to discover that and, frankly, I think it's great that their camp welcomes a handful of open-minded non-Jewish kids to share these rich experiences every summer.
I know that my kids will develop lifelong friendships with some of their campmates; it's just that I never figured a chuppah into the equation.
Kelley Korbin is a Vancouver freelance writer.