On being a parent of a third-generation camper
By Sara Shapiro-Plevan
I cried when I dropped my son off at camp. Oddly enough, it was not because I would miss him and not because I thought he might miss me, or even that we’d just spent the last 16 months together. I cried out of gratitude for my kid’s camp, because they did everything in their capacity to make it possible for him to have this precious time with his friends and to recapture some semblance of adolescence that he’s missed over the last year.
He is having the summer that he needs so that he can continue to become the person he is becoming. He is a camp lover. His most treasured place is somewhere in the middle of the migrash/field on B-Side, at Camp Ramah in New England, in the 01069.
When I see my kid run off to meet his friends with glee and only a glimmer of sadness, that is a deep win. I’ll take the tears, and every single COVID test and mask and set of instructions and precautions. I take those tears because they are a mixture of knowing that he is the third generation of my family to spend summers at camp, kvetching about the food and acknowledging that yes, he did read Eicha/Lamentations at the camp observance of Tisha B’Av and maybe even enjoyed it. There aren’t longitudinal studies of families who have chosen over multiple generations to enroll their children in Jewish summer camp. There is so much to explore about the value of this experience as it is handed down from parent to child and even grandchild – how the decisions to select a summer camp is rooted in our own camping experiences (for good and for bad) and how that influences our children’s appreciation of their time at camp and their sense of self as Jews. Let’s harvest those stories, not just so that we can recall our parents’ camp tales, but also so that we can celebrate our own and share them with our children.
This year, more than ever, we have come to recognize that what is perhaps most valuable about camp is “the bubble.” In previous years, this referred to the bubble where community members of all ages co-create an idealized Jewish life – a scenario difficult if not impossible to replicate outside of camp, no matter how hard we tried. This year, we appreciate “the bubble” differently, the one that keeps our children safe from COVID, helps them to regain their sense of community, renew their commitment to friendship, and refresh their identities away from their families. It is in this sacred space that they are truly safe as they emerge from a pandemic year that has been like no other. If there was ever a time to invest in camp and make sure that these bubbles can hold our children, it is now.
My son’s people are his camp friends. I have developed a true affection for their parents and am grateful to them for raising caring, thoughtful and kind young people. As it happens, I feel the same way about my people too, as so many of my dearest friends are people who I met through my years at the same camp. When we are able to share experiences and share choices, at least in this sacred space, we know that we share some core values, somewhere. All I wish for my kid is a lifetime of deep, enduring relationships that grow from his years at camp over 9 years (-1 for COVID). And when I go to pick him up, I’ll cry one last time, because it will be his last summer as a camper and my last time doing pickup… until he becomes a counselor.
Sara is the CEO of the Gender Equity in Hiring Project, which transforms the endemic culture of gender bias that keeps women from senior leadership positions in the Jewish community. Almost everything she knows she learned as a counselor and rosh edah (division head) at Camp Ramah in New England. Sara and her husband, Rabbi Bill Plevan (also a Jewish summer camp fan), hope that their kid will some day have the best job on earth as a camp counselor, too.