May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Growing up, I never liked Color War. It was literally the worst part of camp.

First of all, Color War always has to be “broken out” in some corny way, like it evolves organically from some disagreement that arises over the course of running a camp. It has to be a surprise every year. Like it’s a shock that this happened. Again.

And it’s not. And it completely takes over the summer, even before it happens. The entire summer, whenever anything goes wrong in camp, everyone starts chanting, “Color War BREAKout! Color War BREAKout!”

And the staff says, “This isn’t it! The counselor clearly broke his arm; you can see the bone coming out through the skin!”

It’s ridiculous. They can just come out and say, “Look, Color War is going to be then,” and everyone will stop. No one demands the other activities sooner than they’re scheduled to happen.

This whole thing is supposed to build friendly competition, but half the bunk suddenly hates each other. For no reason.

I mean, all I wanted to do was play with my friends—I chose this camp specifically because it’s where my friends were going—and for a whole week of this month that my parents were paying good money for, it’s like “Oh, you guys are friends? You’re on opposite teams now!”

Somehow, every single one of my friends was always on the opposite team. And they would be. You can’t put ALL the kids who can’t play sports on the same team.

And if the other kids see you talking to your friend, they’re like, “Don’t talk to him; he’s on the other team.”

What, is he a spy, trying to find out our state secrets? I don’t know any state secrets. This is just about the counselors hating each other.

This isn’t our fight. Maybe you should have hired counselors who get along. I don’t know.

I actually think the whole point of a lot of these camp activities is to entertain the counselors. These counselors barely get paid. They think they have a job, but they’re making like 20 bucks a day. Let’s give them something.

Most of Color War is screaming. You have kids shouting in your face about how blue stinks—even though last year, some of those same kids were all about how red is the worst. They changed their minds, I guess.

But I didn’t come to camp to sing my lungs out.

“I can’t hear you!” your captain shouts.

Well, you should stand in the middle of this crowd. I can’t hear anything.

And the screaming gets louder and louder as the war goes on, all culminating in the Grand Sing.

Is that even grammar?

For the Grand Sing, you have to sing a few songs. One song is about how half the camp is the literal worst, and another is about how great the camp is.

The third song is about your theme.

Because every team has to have a theme that is entirely separate from the color. Like one year when I was in day camp, the teams were called Chaim and Sholom. How could one of the teams be named Sholom? In a war!

“We’re the team of peace! We don’t even want this war!”

“Well, we’re the team of life, and we’re going to slaughter you guys!”

One summer, I was actually in a camp called “Camp Sholom.” They still had Color War. Talk about false advertising.

And then the staff would say, “Tomorrow everybody has to come in wearing their colors.”

You think I brought red clothes to camp? I don’t own red clothes.

So one team is wearing blue clothes, and the other is wearing random colors that are not blue. One guy has a red bathing suit, and he’s wearing it for three days straight.

I did like the skits, though. The funny ones, anyway, which were usually about a non-Jew attempting to daven Shemoneh Esrei. Again, speaking as a mesivta writing teacher who is met with complaints whenever I assign any kind of writing, these counselors can sure churn out two skits and three songs in 48 hours. But none of that is the campers. The campers just watch. And yell. If a kid is a great artist, for example, they still don’t let him decorate the dining room. As a camper, your strengths have to be athletics or screaming.

And you can’t even get the results of the war right away. The head counselor has to take forever to announce who actually won.

“And now a word from our sponsor.”

No, just tell us. Camp is supposed to be over by now. I want to go to bed.

All these staples of actual war come to the fray during Color War—sleep deprivation, screaming, wearing the same clothes for three days straight… And the people putting this on you are not the other team, it’s the head staff.

Maybe the losing team should be allowed to fight the head staff.

And this is every year in every camp. I mean, every few years might be OK, but it has to be every summer? Twice? Twice we need a war in eight weeks?

This doesn’t happen in school, and in school we’re together for 10 months, yet nobody fights. For sure not on this level. We show up to camp and we can’t go a week without a fight? Anything goes wrong, everyone yells, “Let’s start a war!” Imagine kids running countries.

Because when you’re in camp, you’re literally in your own country. You’re in your own time zone, somehow; you have no idea where the camp even is on a map… They drove you up there in a bus in which no one was sitting down…

“Where’s the camp?”

“It’s in the country.”

“Which country?”

It’s like some war-torn country.

Maybe there should be a war between the people who love Color War and those who don’t about whether it should continue. Unfortunately, the people who hate it won’t show up to that. They’ll be playing in the woods or something.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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