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Sex, Friendship & 4 Other Things I Learned in Jewish Summer Camp

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Sometimes, I miss summer camp. I know, I’m in my 40s and camp was a long time ago, but those 12 summers I spent at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire helped to shape who I am today. There is not a day that goes by when a memory isn’t sparked or a message isn’t given on Facebook about a friend from camp.

I first went to camp at the young age of 8. My parents were teachers at the time, and decided to work at camp in order for their three kids to have that summer experience. They did this for nine years. While I know my older brothers thoroughly enjoyed their camp experiences too, for me, camp was not simply a fun summer fling. It was my life. I lived out my school year with only the dream of going back to camp.

I realize a lot of kids describe similar experiences, but as I see it now, camp truly kept me focused particularly during my adolescence when I was not the happiest. I was happy at camp, always. That never changed. I was able to just be myself and learn who that actually is.

These are six of the memories and experiences that I think of often:

1. The friendships are, of course, close like family, but it was also about community. There is still nothing in my life that compares to Shabbat at camp. Friday evenings consisted of dressing up, assembling the entire camp to bring in Shabbat and participate in Kabbalat Shabbat together. Dinner was accompanied with singing songs with enormous spirit and joy. There really is nothing I can think of in my life that compares to that feeling. Being a part of that camp community made me feel included, necessary, and made Shabbat something to look forward to each week.

2. I remember years on the volleyball team, and even though I knew I was not very good, I was included as part of the team and my self-esteem soared. Similarly, I fell in love with Israeli dancing and was always part of the Arts Festival dance group. Although not graceful, I was committed to learning the steps. My memories of going to the Arts Festival each summer are very clear in my mind and immediately bring a smile to my face. These experiences also urged me to join the Israeli Dance group at my college where I danced all four years.

3. Camp provided a safe haven for me. It is where I was my strongest, where I not only learned leadership skills, but was able to use them often. I learned to tolerate “headache” cold showers where singing loudly was a good way to manage the freezing cold water pulsing on my head.

4. Camp was where at the age of 10, I learned not only about getting my period, but also about sex from some older girls. They were rather thorough, and I remember feeling a bit disgusted with the whole thing.

5. It is also where I would put my soul into singing for Zimriyah (Songfest with each age group singing three songs and competing) and Maccabiah (color war with two teams). These annual pieces of my camp experience meant everything. Even now, if I have a conversation with a camp friend, and the topic of zimriyah comes up, there is still strength in my tone when going over who won and when. There is great pride, and yes, competitiveness, too!

6. Camp taught me that working hard at something you love is so important and incredibly fulfilling. This was carried into my education and beyond.

Luckily, my niece and nephew have attended Yavneh, so I have been able to vicariously re-experience certain aspects of camp life. These experiences cannot be duplicated. These experiences are part of my core. Sometimes, I yearn for that time when life really was simple. Skipping swim class, breaking into the kitchen for ice cream late at night (we were caught!), and playing a camp-wide game of capture the flag…not a care in the world and feeling fulfilled with my friends, no, my family, my community. I really do miss camp.


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