The Story of Camp

  • I often find myself explaining my love of camp – the place(s) I’ve spent the last 22 summers of my life and the career I’ve chosen for myself – and finding that words can only partly convey it. Trying to describe the magic of late night bunk talks, or the taste of the first grilled cheese, or the feeling of the sand in your toes before you jump into the lake hand in hand with your best friend. Or character development and how a camper can grow from a nervous first-timer to a confident, independent young woman who has conquered her fears and broken down barriers to build relationships. How even our counselors grow leaps and bounds and conquer challenges and master the art of working with kids. How every summer is a chapter in the most wonderful book that exists, building on one another and that the experience of camp, for each camper, counselor and parent, tells a story of growth, friendship and resilience. Each day that we are lucky enough to wake up on the shores of Lake Oldham we turn a new page and look forward to the new adventure that awaits.

    Color War is one of the storylines that I often struggle to put words to. Each event, team meeting and competition transcends just a friendly competition. Your captains understand the angst you feel as you patiently wait for #56 to run from the beach to the volleyball court where she then braids your hair and passes the baton. We watched as young campers took on leadership roles in the Blue teams dance and fight song and of course the tradition of rolling small pieces of tissue paper to be used in the team poster. We watched as our campers silently and seriously entered the Gym on the final night to present their team alma maters and passionately screamed their cheers. Color War brings out the best in our campers. The foundation of competition tends to set the scene for compassion and camaraderie as campers find their voice within their teams and the role that allows them to shine most. Y’Rush steps up in a way that often leaves me in awe of the power of camp.

    The three days are this perfect balance of sticking to the plot, and the traditions that have existed for so many years, and also unexpected twists that keep us on our toes and remind us why the story can always be rewritten. The digging of the heart is the first event after the break and naming of the captains. Y’Rush campers jump face first into a marked off section of the beach where two halves of a heart, one blue and one gold, are buried. Hands and feet dig desperately to find the first half and determine your team’s color. It’s dark, it’s messy, it’s hard to see but our campers, older and younger, are fueled by the excitement of screams and spirit. It took almost 45 minutes to find the second heart, and both teams pitched in and truly dug deep. One of my favorite hour-and-a halves of camp every single summer, no matter what camp I’m at, is the Apache relay. It’s the perfect display of team work, grit, and sportsmanship as every single camper plays their part. It’s even more fun when it’s a close race and I haven’t seen such a close race or intense finish since 2000. I love every moment of Color War and often say it’s the best three days of the year, but one that I welcome with mixed emotions as I feel the impending end to the summer.

    There’s a certain feeling to the end of camp. It’s a pit in your stomach that you can only describe as an uneasy appreciation. We are so grateful to be here and to have our time her, but there’s an almost desperate desire for it to last longer. A sort of helplessness that no amount of coffee cake tomorrow morning or late night dance parties in your bunk can drag out the time we have here, no matter how hard we try. So much of what we do has an overwhelming sense of finality to it. Today was our last pizza lunch. Tonight is the final Shabbat in the Pine Grove, the last time we’ll walk arm and arm to services with your closest friends. Tuesday we’ll savor camp tacos for the last time until next summer. One final field trip yesterday. A couple more evening activities. A few more Free Plays spent doing stunts and tumbling on Masada. And while we are limited in our time remaining in summer 2019, there’s an odd sense of comfort in knowing we’re not alone in how we feel.

    We have a few pages left before we close the book and retire it on the shelf until next year. So, when you pick your daughters up on Wednesday, squeeze ‘em, and hug ‘em, and love on ‘em and let them share their camp adventures with you. They’ll have so much to tell you – they’re sharing their most beloved story, they may just need a little time to get it all down on paper for you. And as you unpack them and find the stinky gold shirt, know that that’s the good luck charm they proudly wore for all three days of Color War. The knotted-up ball of string is the unfinished friendship bracelet that accidentally went through the camp laundry but still represents irreplaceable bonds. Clothes you didn’t send them to camp with tell a story of sharing. The beauty of Camp Pembroke is that it’s never really over, even if this chapter is, each camper’s story, and the adventure, will continue to be a part of their own life’s narrative. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to spend the last 7 weeks with your daughters, they have added so much to my camp story, one that I am grateful to add to each and every summer.

    Shabbat shalom,


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