Grade 10 girls at camp. The author’s kids came back from camp inspired by the Jewish teens leading and caring for their group and wanted nothing more than to be ensconced in that same atmosphere the following year. (photo from Lauren Kramer)
My friend’s daughter is heading off to Jewish overnight camp for the first time ever, and her poor mom is terrified. “How will I know if she’s safe in the lake?” she wonders. “What if there’s a sexual predator among the staff members? What about her medications?”
She reminds me of myself some eight years ago when my kids first headed off to camp. The idea of not being able to protect my children myself was frightening and I worried incessantly that first week, calling daily to find out if my kids were sleeping well at night or crying with homesickness. I was certain it would be the latter. “She’s fine,” my daughter’s madrichah would tell me over the phone. “She’s found a group of friends, she’s busy all day long and at night she’s too tired to do anything but fall straight asleep.”
Her words were reinforced when they finally put my daughter on the line. From her voice I could tell the phone call was taking her away from something she’d much prefer to be doing. “Mom, everything’s OK, don’t worry,” she said. “See you in three weeks!” The phone line went dead.
So, I stopped worrying and started enjoying the blissful quiet, the sudden absence of laundry and the easiness of preparing meals for three people as opposed to six. The house stayed spotless for much longer and the hours of the day were mostly mine, and easily filled. The kids came back inspired with Jewish camp ruach, heart sore about their recent goodbyes to cabin mates who had become best friends. With shining eyes, they told stories about Israeli folksongs sung around the campfire at night, new tunes they’d learned for Birkat Hamazon and the fun they’d had raiding the boys’ cabin and pulling pranks. No sooner had they returned than they were counting down to next year’s summer camp.
With all this positive Jewish energy wafting over our home, the $1,000-per-week cost per child didn’t seem so exorbitant anymore. They’d come home with a shot in the arm of Jewish love, passion for Yiddishkeit and enthusiasm for kosher food. They were inspired by the Jewish teens leading and caring for their group and wanted nothing more than to be ensconced in that same atmosphere the following year. By comparison, the Jewish afterschool program they’d been enrolled in during the school year had generated moans of discontent and efforts to skip class on a regular basis.
I’m a big fan of Jewish summer camp and it was I who coaxed my friend to send her daughter in the first place. Surrounded by a non-Jewish milieu in their home community, with only a small Chabad presence in their town, I knew it would expose their little girl to the best of Judaism in a stimulating, fun, unforgettable environment. There would be music, good food, playmates, dancing, crafts and mischief – all the components of a brilliant summer. And it would ignite in their daughter’s soul a burning love for Judaism as she’d never experienced it before, and a desire to repeat the experience, again and again.
So, I consoled her fears with gentle encouragement, insisting that the staff were superbly vetted, the lake carefully watched by qualified lifeguards and the children’s swimming skills meticulously evaluated before anyone even stuck their toes in the water.
But it’s a process, this worrying, one all moms endure and one that can only be allayed when they hear the happiness in their kids’ voice, their impatience to get off the phone and their sheer love of camp when they return home afterwards. For the majority of kids, anyway. If my friends’ child is one of the small percentage that become desperately homesick and returns home early, I’ll be in the doghouse, big time.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.