Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Summer Camp: A Growing Experience
by Moshe Rockove

Shavuos has passed and everybody's attention turns to the upcoming summer months. The children are busy putting on the finishing touches on the long school year with finals and graduation. After those hectic days come to an end, the ten- week summer vacation begins. Most children look forward to the days (and weeks) of no homework, tests, and other classroom assignments with eager anticipation.

The parents, however, worry how their children will occupy themselves over such a long period of time; after all, ten weeks is a long time! (Most schools in the US have off from the end of June until the beginning of September, even many of the boys' schools.) They want their children to have a structured day, but not too much that would remind them of school. They don't want them to be totally free the whole day for they could end up, unfortunately, roaming the streets with the wrong crowd. In today's times, with the yetzer hora of the streets more pronounced than ever before, this concern is more real and palpable. So much lurks in the streets to steer the children astray, that one must have some logical system to let the children enjoy themselves while the summer still remains a positive experience for them.

For this reason, many people leave the city for the Catskill Mountains in "upstate" New York. The beautiful mountainous region is dotted with bungalow colonies and camps full of people who appreciate the change of scenery in the summer. The streets of the Jewish neighborhoods in New York City such as Boro Park and Flatbush are noticeably quieter during these weeks as their inhabitants leave the city confines for the expansive mountains.

A lot of children go to camp throughout the summer where they engage in enjoyable activities, fun-filled programs. The ruach campers get in camp remains with them way beyond the summer, usually throughout the year and many times for life.

Going to Camp

The campers are finally packed up, ready to go to camp. Their mothers finished buying new clothing and putting name tags on all of them, placing all the clothing neatly in the suitcase or trunk, and filling the duffel bags with pillows and blankets (and wondering how much of it will come back home).

The buses are loaded with excited campers, ready for the two- hour trip to camp. As they cross the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey, they leave behind the crowded city streets and its tall buildings for the openness of New Jersey. As they continue to travel the mountains rise in the distance. They're on the way!

The bus proceeds up the NY State Thruway with everybody sharing stories about the past year and wondering what's new in camp this year. A new bunk house perhaps? Or maybe a new gym. The bus feels like it's climbing to higher elevations for it's not going as fast as it once did. Fresh air replaces the sticky, humid city air, giving the campers a taste of what's yet to come.

The excitement builds up when it's time to exit the Thruway at Exit 16 for Route 17, the main highway in the Catskills. After about an hour on the famous "Route 17" (soon to be renamed I-86) the bus climbs the infamous Wurtsboro hills--a bus's nightmare. Will the bus make it up the hill? they wonder. They finally get through that stretch of the road when the familiar towns appear on the signs: Mountaindale, Woodridge, South Fallsburg, Monticello, Kiamesha, Swan Lake, Ferndale, Liberty, Parksville, and all the other towns that dot Sullivan County. We're finally here!

They jump off the bus forgetting all about their luggage, and run to the main campgrounds. Anything new this year? Who is in our bunk? Who are the counselors? They greet other arriving campers like long-lost friends and can't wait to get going.

A Typical Day in Camp

The camp day begins before shacharis with Cocoa Club. The early birds learn mishnayos before davening while sipping a cup of hot, fresh cocoa; a truly heartwarming start to an exciting camp day.

After Shacharis, cleanup, and breakfast, the camps have learning groups where professional rebbeim enjoy their summer teaching different topics that are more conducive to the relaxed summer atmosphere. They always have a few good stories up their sleeve to enrapture the children's attention and instill in them an appreciation for hasmodoh and middos tovos.

During activities that occupy most of the day, the campers enjoy playing ball against different bunks and in leagues. They also partake in art activities by making murals and woodwork that they take home.

The camp pool is full the entire day as the campers utilize the opportunity to cool off during a fun-filled, hard day's work.

Every night there are special night activities that offer a smorgasbord of unique and exciting ideas. No two nights are the same; the campers don't know what to expect from one day to the next. A night's activity could range from something ordinary as "Capture the Flag" or a game show with questions on Jewish topics, or something totally original no one else has thought of before. Most campers are exhausted by the time the day is over and go to sleep after giving their counselor the obligatory runaround (just like they do at home).

The Unique Camp Atmosphere - Opportunity For Growth

"Camp is a great experience for children", says Rabbi Yehuda Levi, Director of Camp Chedvah -- a girls camp in Liberty -- for the past thirty years. "The people they get to know and the good time they have in the calm, relaxing camp atmosphere, stay with them for a lifetime. It's a fact that the best friendships are those that were forged in camp."

Indeed, a camp director figured out that children who stay in camp the entire summer, spend nearly as many hours in camp as they do in the classroom the entire year! (Do the math.)

The school curriculum focuses primarily on textbook knowledge in various subjects; that leaves the teacher with little time to delve into other important aspects of personal growth, such as Yahadus, hashkofo, middos, and stories about gedolim that encourage such behavior.

Many students' possess talents that they cannot nurture and develop in the classroom such as art, singing and acting. Camps provide a great addition to the learning experience of a child by broadening children's horizons in these various, important fields.

Color war, for example, allows campers to thrive in all these areas. Those who possess artistic skills are able to utilize them to make props and scenery for plays. The actors relish the roles they receive acting in the skits and plays that make up color war. Those who like to sing wait eagerly for team time and the Grand Sing where they can sing their teams' songs on their way to victory (hopefully). They have the opportunity to showcase their myriad capabilities in a kosher environment and in a way they can feel proud of themselves.

Rabbi Levi considers the highlight of his thirty years in camp to observe those girls who come from cities where they see little active Yiddishkeit around them. The Yiddishe ruach they felt in camp -- the special Shabbos atmosphere, the camaraderie they developed with other frum girls -- carries them throughout the year, when they came back for more the following summer.

One girl who lived in Phoenix, Arizona came to camp year after year. That experience of spending each summer in such an environment enhanced her appreciation for Yiddishkeit. Today she is a fine Yiddishe mother married to a true ben Torah. "The years she spent in camp definitely played a role in helping her become a true bas Yisroel, " said Rabbi Levi.

Personal Memories

I fondly remember my days as a camper in Camp Agudah. The counselors would ensure we had a great time and try to help us in all ways possible. We gained new friends and learned about different Jewish cities across the globe, thus gaining appreciation for all different types of frum Yidden regardless of background or origin. The unforgettable Head Counselor, Rabbi Simcha Kaufman would lead the Shabbos zemiros with Rabbi Zysche Heschel by teaching us new niggunim and telling great stories.

The camp built a bungalow for gedolim so they could visit and relax in the summer. This enabled the campers to see gedolim up close, removed from their official capacities. It gave us campers the opportunity to see how they acted so we could learn from them. HaRav Yaakov Ruderman zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, would come for weeks at a time. We saw a godol who heralded from the previous generation up close in person. Rav Gifter zt"l would sit under a tree in his shirt sleeves at a table stacked with seforim writing his chidushei Torah. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l would visit and give us the opportunity to shake his hand and receive a brocho.

Many gedolim who visited spoke to the campers, imparting them with an appreciation for Torah and Yiddishkeit. One Friday night, the Bostoner Rebbe spoke to us in shul. He stood before us wearing his streimel and remarked, "In baseball there's something called `the seventh inning stretch' where you take a break and relax. In Torah there is no such thing as a seventh inning stretch. We're always obligated to follow the rules of the Torah. "

Color war is a staple of camp tradition. Every year we would be told "there's no color war this year" but sure enough, we would have it the last week of camp. The competition was fierce, the preparations were arduous (especially for the counselors) as each team tried its hardest to win. The ball games, skits and plays, and of course the Grand Sing, kept us busy for three days until the winning team was finally announced. The winners exulted; as for the losing team, well, "Wait 'till next year."

Although it has been many years since I went to camp, the memories are still fresh with me. I am sure that those of you reading this article who went to camp as a youngster have your own memory files stored somewhere in your minds and hearts, waiting to be opened and enjoyed once again.


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