An Appreciation to Summers Spent in Paradise
By Gerald Freisleben
In the classic male-bonding film Stand By Me, based on a Stephen King novella, there is a line of dialogue at the end that I have never forgotten: “I never had friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 … does anyone?”
In my case, however, five of the friendships that remain mainstays in my life and that I continue to cherish “later on” are precisely the ones I had 45 years ago, going back to the time when I was 12.
My relationships with these fellows — along with many of the values that define our respective Jewish identities — were forged during idyllic summers spent as campers, and later counselors, at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps in Malibu — Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop.
The camps were founded in 1952 and, over that time more than 55,000 others have enjoyed the same experiences as my friends and I, including most of our group’s own children, who have followed us, l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation), as campers and counselors.
I am not so naïve as to think that mine is the only nucleus of life-long friendship to emanate from Hess Kramer and Hilltop. I am personally aware of countless others from our camps, in addition to extended webs of connections and acquaintances, which continue to endure. In following the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps social media feeds, I get a vicarious thrill to see future lifelong friendships being created this summer. And these bonds are no different than those forged at other Jewish summer camps.
However, I can only speak to my own childhood and adolescent slice of paradise, and how Hess Kramer and Hilltop became, in countless ways, a tie that binds. Little did my friends and I realize at the time we were deep in these “Malibu moments” — engaged in hiking, sports, song sessions or arts and crafts — that many of the ethics and beliefs that would subsequently become our compasses subtly were being shaped.
With respect to my five friends and me, I used to think we were connected by nostalgia for place, shared experiences and inside jokes from the years together at camp. And granted, our repressed adolescent humor manages to brim to the surface in each other’s company in ways that make those on the periphery question our political correctness, if not our sanity.
Yet as the six of us reached adulthood, married wonderful women and began to raise families of our own, it occurred to me that these connections were part of something deeper and far more meaningful. It was not campfire jokes but common tenets and principles. First and foremost, our own Greatest Generation parents and respective upbringings at home shaped these belief systems and values. But I also appreciate — as do my dear friends — how the Jewish camping experience factored into our childhoods and formed us, as well. I can’t quantify the beneficial impact and solace I get from this core circle of five men. I classify them as “3 a.m. friends” — the kind you can call at any hour of the day or night and know they will be there in an instant.
We tease each other mercilessly and with abject cruelty that no outsider could possibly comprehend. Once, in fact, after a particularly brutal exchange of e-mail quips, I offered up an apology for my offenses to my worthy adversary. “Are you kidding?” he responded. “Sometimes this abuse is the only thing that gets me through the day.”
And, for the friends that I had when I was 12 — who remain friends to this day — along with countless life lessons imparted on us, Camp Hess Kramer will always have my profound gratitude.
Gerald Freisleben is the president of FoleyFreisleben LLC, a Los Angeles-based strategic communications consultancy that specializes in serving corporate social responsibility and nonprofit clients.
This post is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.