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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.