By Michelle Kofman
There’s a commonality among all summer-camp campers, specifically overnight camp. If it’s not tan-line bragging rights, it’s probably counting down the days until camp. As a kid, I remember the feeling of rolling into camp each summer. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe; if you went to summer camp, you probably know the feeling. For many of us, camp is our second home, it’s our sanctuary. I know that for me, camp was the place I felt most accepted. My best friends are still people I met at camp.
This year, due to COVID-19, camps across America are closed. My heart hurts for the campers, counselors, faculty/staff members, and parents who will not be returning to camp this summer. I remember my last two summers at camp pretty vividly; I went to a new camp in Northern California called Camp Newman. I didn’t think it would be too different from my original camp, OSRUI in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. They were both operated by the Union for Reform Judaism, so how different could they be? I was so wrong. OSRUI was great as a camper; the programs offered are incredibly unique to the Midwest, but also throughout the country. However, transitioning onto staff was a different experience. Luckily, I was able to spend my final summers at camp in the mountains of Northern California.
Camp Newman and OSRUI offered very different programs. By the end of my tenure at OSRUI, I had spent summers living in tents, did a seven-week Hebrew Immersion program, and biked around Lake Michigan and camped at some beautiful campsites along the way. OSRUI had given me 10 years of memories and it was tough moving on, but Camp Newman was a literal change of scenery.
The new camp, Camp Newman, was in the Northern California mountains. While OSRUI was flat and wide open, Camp Newman was hilly and surrounded by forests. I loved the wilderness and being surrounded by forest and always being close to a hiking trail. OSRUI cultivated my love for Mother Nature and connecting with her spiritually. I’ve kept that love and connection for the environment since it developed and it only grew at Camp Newman.
There’s a saying along the lines of counselors don’t go to camp to get paid, they go so they can be at camp. As a counselor, it’s bittersweet: on one hand you get to be at camp, but on the other hand, you’re “wasting” a summer and barely getting paid. This equates to most, if not all, counselors working at summer camps to want to be there. As counselors, we try to make each and every camper’s experience wonderful, and make it as special as our summers as campers.
Summer camp teaches invaluable skills to campers and counselors. It’s the greatest and most exhausting job. The best part of camp is probably disconnecting from society. It sounds crazy from a communications major to say that disconnecting from all outlets is wonderful, but it is.
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For all of the counselors and campers not going to camp this year, I feel for you. I was the camper who had a countdown going. I understand your heartbreak. Even though you can’t go to camp, Zoom call (or whichever platform you prefer) your friends, take a stroll through nature, and hold camp close to your heart. We may not physically be at camp, but we will always have the lifetime friendships and be connected through the place we all love.