Summer Camp Feels The Same After All These Years

I recently had the opportunity to go back to camp with The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping during a site visit to Camps Airy & Louise. I recall fondly spending seven summers as a camper at Camp Louise during my pre-adolescent years and I was excited to reminisce on my summertime memories spent in Cascade, MD.

As we made the drive from Baltimore to the mountains of Maryland, I instantly felt the same excitement I had all those years ago when my parents would drop me off for the summer. Initially, when I was in elementary school and attending overnight camp for the first time, my parents signed me up for a two-week session, fearful that I would be homesick if I stayed any longer – boy were they wrong! From the very first day I was hooked. I think I enjoyed myself so much that first summer that I forgot to write letters home. Needless to say, for the next six years, my parents agreed to send me for four weeks.

The memories came flooding back as we pulled into camp and saw the familiar “White House”. Though the physical appearance has certainly changed – (it’s no longer scary and haunted looking) – the memories of warmth and kindness resurfaced for me. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to hear the sounds of staff members and counselors cheering and clapping, welcoming me to camp on move-in day.

As we toured the property, I remembered things about camp that made me smile. I loved celebrating Shabbat in the solarium…everyone was dressed in white and the atmosphere was magical. Folk dancing was one of my favorite Shabbat activities (I even did a folk dance with my camp friends at my Bat-Mitzvah) and seeing that campers are still doing those same dances 10+ years later was so meaningful for me. Each summer was a new discovery…I used to love the arts and crafts projects we did…creating necklaces and keychains in the copper studio and learning how to make new foods in cooking.

Although I didn’t realize this at the time, I grew up a lot over those summers. I learned how to be independent and live without my parents. I organized my own laundry, cleaned my bunk, and managed my day-to-day activities. Camp connected me to Jewish culture and tradition, introduced me to new friends, new skills, new experiences, and so much more. Camp helped prepare me for college and living on my own.

I noticed many upgrades throughout camp that day – a slide replaced the diving boards that I used to jump off and air conditioning has since been added to keep campers cool. In the familiar dining hall, food is now served buffet style instead of with wait staff, but it was clear to me that the friendships and bonds that I made all those summers ago still exist in the highest form.

The life-long connections I made with fellow campers has lasted all these years. I have traveled throughout the northeast to attend friends simchas and family events and they in turn have shared in mine. I remember my parents surprising me with a Sweet 16 party and all my camp friends showed up. And even today, thanks to the help of social media, I am still in touch with many of them as we embark on yet another phase of our lives.

When I got home from the incredible tour that day, I told my boyfriend, Jake, that I planned on sending our future kids to Camp Airy and Camp Louise (even though he went to a camp in Pennsylvania) and hopefully passing on to them the sense of community that attending Jewish camp provides. A few weeks after our visit, Jake proposed to me, making the possibility of kids attending camp become even more real – I can’t wait to see what’s in store for future generations of Campers at Airy & Louise. And I can’t wait to go back!

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