April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Legend has it that when we die our souls go up to heaven and we are asked a few difficult questions. Did you fol­low the mitzvot? Did you become the best person you could be? And fi­nally…how did you spend your summers as a child and teenager?! You can twist your an­swers for the first two, but that last one— you’ve gotta be honest, or else it’s all over! Just kidding. The other questions may be asked (and answered honestly), but fortunately, God is more forgiving about your summer plans. However, it’s been something on my mind for a while now, especially as the school year winds down.

When you’re a little kid, summer is relative­ly simple. You get out of school—I don’t think anyone ever really does the “No more teach­ers, no more books” chant, it’s usually more like just a lot of frenzied, excited screaming—and get shuttled off to camp. When I was young­er I attended a public day camp with the name Camp Kooskooskoos—great camp, confus­ing name (how many “koos”-es can you have in one word?) where we played sports, did arts and crafts, and bothered the counselors while in the pool. Typical summer camp stuff. And kids can go to all sorts of camps, for spe­cial interests or sports or locations, and once they grow older start heading to sleep-away camp. It’s a great way to get a taste of dorm­ing at a young age without your parents. And if you choose the right place, the food won’t make you throw up all the time. (Not to worry, I went to Camp Dora Golding for a few years and the food was always impeccable. However, one year we all got some surprise marathon train­ing when we kept having to run inside from the rain.) Maybe you’ll do a family vacation be­fore or after, down to the shore or somewhere like that.

It’s once you get a bit older that it gets more complicated.

There are to some extent the usual sorts of sleep-away camps for teens, sure, but there’s a cutoff age at some point where you’re just too old for the regular camp. And all of a sud­den, there are other options, which I’ll explain in a moment. With many of these, after years of letting your parents deal with all the paper­work and logistics, suddenly it’s all thrust on you. It’s not too hard to get used to, if a little nerve-wracking to fill out applications or to go to an interview for a first time. It’s the plethora of choices—and how to make the right one— that I’m more concerned with.

A lot of my friends, for instance, go on in­ternational programs. They’ll be learning the culture and lan­guage of places such as Israel, China, South Africa, and New Zea­land (which to me is the place that Lord of the Rings was filmed in, so I wonder if they’ll get a chance to meet any Hobbits). There are also jobs as counselors at local day camps, getting to work with kids and help run programs—I worked as a junior counselor last year for a second-grade bunk. Then there are other job possibilities, where now you’re old enough to apply to intern at some companies and become the best bagel-buyer they’ve ever known at lunch break. On a serious note, those internships (which I’ve ex­plored more this year) could be great for fu­ture experience. And there are even learning programs at colleges, if you want to get a head start at your future alma mater.

Prices notwithstanding (let’s pretend airfare is relatively cheap to China, which it isn’t), which to choose? I feel as if the deep­er issue is, how do you want to spend sum­mer? You power through the whole school year, working yourself up to your very last drop of energy. Shouldn’t summer vaca­tion be, well, a vacation? (And to explore the truth behind whether they actually eat Chinese food in China, or just order in piz­za.) On the other hand, it feels like it doesn’t pay to be lazy. Isn’t it better to start racking up job experience or pursuing skills that could become useful?

I mentioned that what bothered me was the plethora of choice here. But now I’m going to turn that into the answer.

I feel that summer should be meaning­ful. Find something to do that’s meaning­ful to you, that feels significant—like your summer will make a difference to you per­sonally. But what does that entail? It’s your choice! That could involve just lying down relaxing on a beach, recharging from the year. Or it could involve getting a high-lev­el paid internship at some Wall Street firm. What do you want to do? Maybe it’s time to forget stressing over how it might look, how other people might perceive how you spend your summer. You should do what will be meaningful to yourself.

For those of you who don’t have as much of a choice in your summer—wheth­er with a job, a familial obligation, or the like—I have a challenge for you. Even as you do what you need to get done, find some extra meaning in it. Shift your at­titude. Summer is a time for choice, for a refreshed attitude—and that’s what I love most about it.

Oren Oppenheim, age 16, lives in Fair Lawn, New Jer­sey and attends Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at [email protected].

By Oren Oppenheim

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