Pun intended—pine trees and pine needles were pervasive at my overnight summer camp, located “deep in the woods of New Hampshire.” Whenever I see pine needles on the ground or sense a scent of pine, it reminds me of camp.
Now again at mid-summer, my thoughts invariably turn to memories of camp. Like an internal clock, it’s part of my DNA, and I even dream about it. Indeed, just the other night as my sister and I went for a twilight walk in my suburban Brookline neighborhood, we reminisced about the wide variety of evening activities offered at Camp Tevya. So many creative and engaging programs kept hundreds of us entertained for a few hours every single night. We had weekly movies and camp fires, of course. But that was just the beginning: talent shows, skit nights, dance fests, song fests, quiz shows, games, competitive activities and the culminating Broadway-based musical counselor show at the end of the summer—the list goes on and on. There was never a dull moment at night.
Our camp also had a beautiful evening closing ritual of gathering in small circles and crossing arms with fellow campers as we all sang “Taps” in Hebrew and English, all the while swaying in our circles. The Hebrew words began with “Rad ha-yom,” or “Day is done….” Such a peaceful and meaningful way to end each busy day.
Shabbat was ushered in on Friday nights with a special dance-like procession performed by one of the girls’ cabins, and the Sabbath queen herself—veiled like a bride—lit candles and chanted the blessing. Twenty-four hours later a captivating Havdalah service marked the end of the holy. What a positive way to experience Judaism and, in particular, this end-of-Sabbath ritual that very few of us were acquainted with.
No wonder returning home at the end of the summer was such a downer. How could one’s quiet kitchen and living room shared by parents and perhaps a sibling or two possibly compete with the excitement and camaraderie of hundreds of flashlight-carrying children walking to and from nightly fun and games? It’s a miracle we ever adjusted back to reality.
It’s long ago and far away, but still the magic lingers as my sister and I reminisce in the darkness about a time when it seemed the fun would never end. Our camp songs about how we would feel “in the distant future” seemed so incredibly schmaltzy at the time. Now we understand how resonant these lyrics were as we bask in sentimentality and sweet memories of childhood. In the words of one such camp song: “We cherish Potanipo’s waters. We cherish the trees so tall. Forever we‘ll hold fond memories. When summer’s over we’ll always recall the hopes and the tears and the laughter, and our love’s deeper than ‘ere before, for the sake of the youth that we have spent here, we shall return once more.”
Even as grown adults, we have been forever shaped by Jewish summer camp and it lives within our souls.
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