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“Friends, friends, friends we will always be. Whether in fair or in dark stormy weather, it’s Tevya camp that keeps us together.” So go the lyrics to a favorite song from my overnight camp. Picture this melody sung by dozens of campers holding onto each other arm in arm, swaying back and forth around dining hall tables.
I have friends from elementary and high school, college, graduate school, law school, Israel, work, politics, synagogue and travel.
But there’s one category of friends like no other—summer camp friends.
For approximately seven years, as a child, adolescent and teenager, these were the folks I played with, ate with, slept beside, showered with, danced and sang with, and laughed and cried with in very tight quarters in unadorned cabins filled with rows of thin-mattressed beds for eight weeks of summer.
I consider myself fortunate to be a proud alumna of Camp Tevya, located in Brookline, New Hampshire. Tevya, still wildly popular and successful, was and remains a co-ed Jewish cultural camp where the food is kosher and Shabbat is observed, with a formal Jewish educational curriculum as well as the less formal exposure to Israeli culture. (In the interest of full disclosure, I now serve as a board member of The Cohen Camps, with Tevya as one of its family of camps.)
But back to friendships. Camp friends always felt special. A handful of them overlapped as school friends, though mostly not. We saw each other once or twice a year outside of camp at formal and informal reunions. To do so was always highly exciting. These reunions also involved seeing the camp counselors—college students who were placed on the highest of pedestals by campers. They were our rock stars!
Over the years, I have remained in touch with my cohort of female camp friends. Sometimes more so; at times less so. But in recent years, we have reconnected in powerful and unexpected ways. Sadly, one of our friends just experienced a tragedy losing her 4-week-old granddaughter to an unexpected rare disease. Several days later she lost her elderly mother.
Through the technological miracle of group texting, the rest of us were able to hold her hand, so to speak, as she went through a multi-week trauma away from home. Another friend has had a series of medical challenges and we have rallied around her as well.
In our recent desire to celebrate one friend’s “big birthday,” which actually affects us all as we are all the same age, we decided to return to camp for a personal reunion, to commune with the bunks, the fields and, of course, beautiful Lake Potanipo. It was a glorious fall day and a joyful celebration. So many memories and associations with so many spots at camp. Recollections flowed of teenage romances, sporting events, counselors and campers who are indelibly stamped into our collective memories. “Remember when…? What was the name of that guy…? Which bunk were you in that year…?” Etc, etc.
Imagine, we were able to luxuriate a whole day in our camp bubble removed from talk of Brett Kavanaugh. That in and of itself was a gift.
So what makes these friendships so lasting and important at this stage of our lives? Is it the 24/7 time we spent together for all of those summers? Is it the fact that it was wrapped in a cultural experience that becomes more profound as we age? Is it the fact that life is full of challenges as we age and the friends who know us to the core suddenly matter most? These were questions posed to me by one of our circle about this very article. I really can’t say, but they are indeed questions worth pondering.
There were many beautiful camp songs that we sang together that fall day. One goes like this:
“Deep in the woods of New Hampshire lies a lake with a camp on its shore, and we know that in the distant future, we shall return once more.” My camp friends and I now find ourselves in that “distant future” and we have indeed “returned once more.” And we hope to return “once more” for many more “distant futures.”