May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Camp Friends Are the Best Friends

It’s Saturday night, Motzei Shabbos, after a long summer Shabbos spent in Monsey, and I am overcome with nostalgia. The outdoors here has a special quality and is filled with sights and sounds that remind me of summer camp: brisk air in the early morning, puffy clouds outlined in pink as the sun rises higher into the mid-morning sky, crickets chirping throughout the day, and trees silhouetted against the dark blue sky as evening descends and the temperature cools down. Being out in nature this much reminds me of the many days and nights that I spent in sleepaway camp.

I feel my mind pining for the pine trees and birch wood bunks, thinking longingly back to long days and even longer nights. But my nostalgia peaks when I drift past the superficial aspects of sleepaway camp and further down memory lane—to the “camp friends” who accompany and enrich all my memories from those weeks away from home.

I believe that camp friends are in a category unto themselves in how pivotal and integral they are to the development of a young adult. These friends aren’t schoolmates of yours and therefore don’t know anything related to your academic capabilities or performance (beyond what you tell them, of course). Your place in the class environment—introvert, extrovert, nerd, jock, etc.—they know nothing. Camp friends don’t know your siblings. They don’t know your parents. How similar or dissimilar you are to your upbringing. Your family life and family dynamics. Your religious practice outside of what is relevant or visible in camp. Your talents and whether or how you’ve used them in the past.

And this “anonymity” not only gives a child a chance but indeed charges him or her with the mission to create themselves anew. To unearth hidden talents, act on a dormant dream, let a characteristic of theirs shine forth in a way they never have, reflect on their past experiences with thoughtfulness as they try to narrate to a peer what their life is like outside of the bubble of camp. Even young adults without a challenging childhood need this. They need the ability to reimagine themselves in a new context, and almost everyone imagines themselves in a newfound and more positive way to some extent. Religiously, socially, emotionally, physically, or some or all of the above. Camp friends are the inviting audience before whom each child is networking, performing, achieving. And since they, too, are relishing in the potential-charged experience of their own rebirth, they look for and appreciate others with an equal fervor and desire to grow. They laugh more heartily at our jokes (as funny or innocuous as they may be), they talk more intensely about their religious path, they sing with more gusto. Camp friends do things with us that they would never do with their “real friends,” all in the name of a certain “carpe diem” that encapsulates the entire summer.

In the majority of cases, camp friends are accessible only in this situation, in this physical camp. They live out of state (or perhaps even out of the country) and we can’t easily go to them for Shabbos or a weeknight chill. They may live in our state but, considering the young age of many camp goers, can still be inaccessible to us, as it would require someone driving to their home, often not an easy feat. Additionally, we are spending nearly all of our waking hours with them for weeks on end—seeing each other in all different contexts and with little to no break.

Finally, there is the aspect of time. The days run into nights and blur into weeks with little awareness of what day it actually is other than Shabbos, making for an experience where time is somewhat suspended and elongated, glowing with a surreal sense of infinity. And yet, in the back of every child’s mind, we know that we only have a finite amount of time with camp friends in this place, and that sooner or later it’ll be the End of Summer Banquet and time to depart. For all of these reasons, the relationships we forge with these friends happen almost immediately upon arrival and are rather intense.

My camp friends truly helped shape who I am today. We exchanged stories—embellished or true—about ourselves that helped us reflect on ourselves. We swapped clothing from our wardrobes and expanded our sense of identity vis-à-vis our appearance. For better or for worse, we taught each other new lessons, new language and new information about the larger adult world of which we were new inhabitants. We laughed, cried and sang together. We had light moments and dramatic moments. We hiked until our legs were sore. We challenged each other. We climbed trees and made bonfires, most of the time supervised by staff. We shared every single meal together and traded snacks in our bunks in between meals. We passed deep-water tests together. We learned how to share space together and how to tolerate others’ standards of living. We rolled our eyes at camp rules together. We belted out cheers while skipping, arm in arm, to the basketball court together. We had post-Tisha B’av concerts together. We had Tisha B’av together. We learned about life together.

We tried to keep in touch. But the beauty of camp friends is that their lasting touch can be felt within each of us no matter the distance or whether we kept up. My husband and kids will likely never meet you, but I think about you every summer, or when I’m singing a camp cheer or a song or niggun I learned in camp and I think back wistfully and gratefully to my younger self and the short-lived, golden friendships that camp helped me forge.

Shoutout to some camp friends who shaped me in CDG and Sternberg: Tziona S., Aviva K., Sara Leba M., Chevie L., Devora Eliana C., Bracha R., Briendy W., Adina S., Miriam A., Perela B., Penina L., Sarah Hannah E., Meira A., Rochel G., other Rochel G., Chaify E., Dossy S., Chavi K., and Tzippy L.

Addendum: This is not to discount the value of going to camp with friends who do know you from your natural milieu. This is just an ode to those who don’t.

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