Climbing at Camp Kalsman. Kids will come home from camp laden with good memories. (photo from campkalsman.org)
My son left for camp a few weeks ago and, try as I might, I cannot quell the heartache at his absence.
At 11, he is independent and outgoing, with a gentle disposition and a winning smile. Every day, he pauses to wrap me in a long embrace, regardless of the battles we have fought over homework, “screen time” in front of the computer and TV, and our ongoing feud over why he has no iPod. “Everyone I know has one,” he insists.
He fights a good battle, my son, and I miss our exchanges – both the affectionate ones and the “you’re so unfair” ones – while the reins of control are in the hands of his camp counselors for 18 days.
I know his time away will be exceptional and that he will return home laden with good memories. His days and nights will be full of campfires, Jewish songs, new friends and exhilarating zip lines through the treetops. He will forget to change his underwear for far too long, spend every day in a swimsuit and leave the sunscreen untouched despite my pleas to the contrary. But, he will come home with even more confidence, buoyed by his newfound ability to stay away for longer stretches of time, surrounded by people his own age.
Back home he has left a large void in the family, a space of silence that he usually fills with chatter, observations and mischief. My daughters reflect on how quiet and dull life is without their older brother, who organizes impromptu theatrical performances long after bedtime and is always game for a round of Monopoly. Sure, there’s less sibling rivalry. But I’d trade it in a heartbeat for his broad smile and spontaneous hugs.
My own days at camp come to mind vividly, though they happened a quarter-century ago. You can’t forget your camp crush, the couple that got expelled for climbing into a sleeping bag together or guard duty, when we climbed atop a water tower to “protect” the other campers from imagined threats to their safety.
I remember the warmth of singing songs around a long table, our bellies filled with food. My camp occurred on a different continent and in a different generation, but, like the one my son is attending, it was a Jewish overnight camp and it changed my life. It opened my eyes to different ways of being Jewish and impregnated my mind with the beauty of Shabbat.
As I prepare to welcome him home in a few days, I’m fervently hoping his camp will leave him with a similar feeling of Jewish warmth and nourishment. Those in the business of funding Jewish overnight campers firmly believe that the future of Judaism and its leaders lies in the bunk beds of today’s Jewish camps. That’s because they offer a 24/7 Jewish environment that’s engaging, supportive and fun, one that promotes religion and religious values.
With two years to go until a bar mitzvah, I’m counting on it. I’m already fielding questions like “Why do I have to eat kosher?” If I’ve had to endure 18 days without my son, he’d better come back with – at the very least – an answer to that question.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This story was first published in 2012.