Now that summer is coming to a close and campers are returning from their “home away from home,” I’ve been thinking about the kinds of life-shaping experiences that kids tend to have at Jewish overnight camp. I left suburban Chicago for Camp Chi in Lake Delton, Wisconsin every summer for five years, from ages 12 to 16, and besides learning how to waterski and make stained glass mirrors (two skills I use all the time, let me tell you) there were more than a few moments that felt like significant steps on the path toward Adulthood (shudder).
Did you come of age at Jewish summer camp? If any of the following things ring true, maybe so:
1. You had your first kiss at camp.
It could have happened at one of those epic bonfires. Or maybe while walking through the moonlit trails after dinner. Perhaps it happened while on a field trip to the local movie theater, and you proceeded to ignore that nice young Jewish boy for the rest of summer because it freaked you out (not that I would know anything about that).
2. You started shaving at camp.
I can’t speak for my male counterparts, but I know a few days before going off to camp for the first time, I suddenly felt like I desperately needed to shave my legs. Mind you, my leg hair was completely invisible at the time, but I knew other “cool” girls would be shaving and I wanted in on that party. (Clearly I had a very misconstrued idea of what a party is.)
3. You broke the rules.
Now, I’m not advocating for any real deviousness, but there was something about being at camp–away from parents and school–that helped this goodie two-shoes feel empowered to break the rules… just a little bit. Whether it was sneaking into a friend’s cabin after curfew or telling your counselor you changed the sheets on your bunk when come on, you clearly didn’t because ugh, camp provided a safe place to push your boundaries a bit.
4. You befriended your counselor.
I learned a lot of things from my awesome counselors throughout the years. Things like what a push-up bra is, and what exactly goes on in a French kiss, and how to rock your natural Jewish hair. But these relationships went deeper than that. Getting to know an older girl who was still close enough to your age to remember what it was like to be young and confused and insecure all the time was a blessing you just didn’t get throughout the school year.
5. You made some questionable fashion/grooming decisions.
Spritzed too much Sun-In on your dark brown hair and wound up with an unfortunate blob of orange “highlights”? Perhaps you let your bunkmate trim your bangs and wound up looking like Frankenstein. Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t as bad as creating, and wearing, a matching tube top/miniskirt combo made entirely out of duct tape. You’re welcome.
6. You missed your parents, but not too much.
The first time you leave your home and your parents for an extended period of time is a big deal, and a sign that you are officially growing up. But honestly, you probably didn’t miss them that much, because you were having way too much fun. Besides, they sent you letters like every day, and care packages in which they hid your favorite candy inside the stuffing of a teddy bear (they are Jewish parents, after all).
7. You discovered your favorite song–and it’s in Hebrew.
Me, I’m all about that Birkat Hamazon. Maybe because we had to sing it after every meal. Or maybe because we swapped out some of the words with inappropriate sound-a-likes (a-sher a-sher bara = I swear I share my bra). But camp somehow succeeded in making Jewish songs and prayers cool, and chances are you’re still caught humming them every now and again.
8. You literally went through puberty.
Sometimes coming of age is less metaphorical, more physical. Perhaps you were one of the lucky girls to get her first period while at camp. Or you saw the first signs of hair under your arms. Or hair in other places. And when you hopped off the bus at the end of summer, your parents swore you were two inches taller than when you left. At least you were surrounded by peers and older kids who could offer you the moral support (and pads and razors) you needed.
9. You found your crew.
It’s going on 15 years since I last walked through those cabins and mess halls, but to this day my very closest friends are the ones I made at camp. Sure, we also eventually went to high school together, but I have no doubt that being bunkmates at camp during those formative years set us up for a special bond that has yet to be broken, even though we all live in different parts of the country now. Thanks, camp.