“When it’s summer in New Hampshire, we’ll be coming back to you…”
That was the refrain of one of the hundreds of overnight camp songs that still echo in my mind even into late middle age.

Last week marked the opening day of Camp Tevya, my alma mater.  How do I know this? Well, some of my dearest camp buddies now have grandchildren attending Jewish overnight camp. So, four of us aging ladies furiously sent texts back and forth to each other all that day expressing our concerns: Would Miles like camp? Isn’t it a shame it’s raining on the first day? Could Debbie (the mom) go into the bunk after all to help unpack her child? Did the day seem to go well despite the weather? Are they homesick?

To the rest of the world it was an uneventful Wednesday at the end of June, but for us the day was filled with memory and meaning.

Here’s the thing about camp: Either you loved it or you hated it. Recently I had lunch with another group of women friends all of whom detested overnight camp. What??? How was this possible? For my camp friends and me, camp was the be all and end all. We lived for camp. We sent our children to Camp Tevya, and now their children are doing the same.

Was it the camp? Was it the luck of the draw? Honestly, it’s hard to predict who ends up loving camp and having it become a permanent part of their soul, but I feel so blessed to be a member of that tribe. It was nothing short of transformative and played a major part in forming my Jewish identity and values, as well as my strong bond to Israel and the Hebrew language.

Sadly my circle of camp friends has recently lost two of its members, and we’re still processing. How is it that just yesterday we were nine year-olds living in a cabin without any parents and forming a new family of sisters? And with teenage counselors who were our heroes and role models? Where has all that time gone?

Remember the older Wendy in “Peter Pan” who wistfully watched through the window as her children were whisked off to Never Never Land by Peter? We were once those children and our teenage counselors were our Peter Pans. Now we are Wendy sitting in her rocker, watching her offspring fly off to exciting and magical summer adventures. And so it goes.

Back then, we used to sing nostalgic songs about the “distant future.” We saw names of former campers from prior decades scrawled on the ceilings and walls of our cabins and didn’t give them much thought. They were our camper ancestors that didn’t want us to forget them and kept us company. Now it is we who have arrived at that distant future. In the iconic song I’m thinking about, we sang “for the sake of the youth that we have spent here, we shall return once more.”

And it’s true. We return each year on opening day in our hearts and souls. The camp no longer allows graffiti with names plastered on the walls, but we are there silently lurking. Our grandkids may be there physically, but our spirits accompany them in those sacred green and white bunks lining beautiful Lake Potanipo in New Hampshire.

Find a directory of Jewish overnight camps here.

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