By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 24x36, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1976
My earliest memory of overnight camp was in the summer of 1976. I was seven years old and my parents had shipped off all four of my sisters to sleep-away camp. I remember sitting quietly in the back seat of my dad’s car beside my Zeidi and driving for hours into Ontario’s cottage country as we set out for Visitors Day.
As soon as we pulled into the grounds of Camp Massad I was smitten. There was something about that place – the sparkling lake, the sounds of screen doors slamming, cool kids everywhere, Hebrew music over the loudspeaker, Israeli and Canadian flags draped on the walls of the ‘chadar ochel’ (the mess hall). I wanted to grow up fast so I would be old enough to go to camp.
What makes Jewish camp special? On Friday nights, the mood shifts to something magical when campers dress up in white for weekly Shabbat dinners; Saturday services by the lake are usually accompanied by Shabbat-only treats such as donuts or chocolate cereals; lazy Sabbath afternoons are spent hanging out with great friends, discussing life’s biggest questions while making macramé bracelets in the bunks; Shabbat concludes at sundown with Havdalah (candle lighting) and raucous song sessions with the whole camp community arm-in-arm.
As a child so much of being Jewish during the school year felt limiting (‘don’t eat this – it’s not kosher’; ‘you can’t go there because you have Hebrew School’). But camp is different. For many kids Jewish spirituality is sparked at camp. Jewish overnight camp is a uniquely American invention and studies have shown that attending Jewish camp is an important predictor of Jewish affiliation into the future. It remains an American Jewish success story and my kids love their Jewish summer camping experience just as much as I did.