Camp Explainer, Part 1

summer-camp-2Our goal for Campfires and Color Wars is to appeal to as broad a range of people as possible. While we both went to reform Jewish camps, we believe the experiences we had translate to many different backgrounds.

Despite our attempts to built a large tent for our audience, there are still some people who may find themselves on the outside looking in. These are the poor, unfortunate souls who never had the pleasure of attending summer camp in their youth.

Shane Lou is one of those people. A humor blogger and published author from NY, Shane missed out on all the fun outside of one two-week trip to basketball camp. He never had the pleasure of sleeping in a bunk-bed overnight, or the thrill of capturing a flag, and at age 35, seems unlikely to check that off the bucket list. He relates to very little of what we’re talking about.

To help us out (and serve as a surrogate for others with similar sheltered histories), he’ll chime in with questions from time to time about camp specifics we take for granted but that actually make little sense to those with no camp familiarity. Camp.

Here’s a few he had after listening to the first three installments:

1. What is the ratio of counselors/camp kids? 

This differs to be sure, but generally speaking you rarely see more than 8-9 kids per staff member. At Jacobs Camp, there typically are two counselors per cabin, usually with between 10-12 kids to look after. At Camp Barney, where Episode #3 guest Greg Bluestein grew up, cabins have two sides with 10 kids each, with one counselor per side and an additional rover or specialist as well.

2. Are the camp kids divided into groups, and if so do groups frequently participate in the same activity at the same time?

In addition to being sorted by cabins, many camps divide the campers into units of similar age ranges/life stages. At GUCI, there is a unit comprised of entering 4-6 graders (Shoresh, Hebrew for roots),  one for 7-8 grades (Gezah, meaning trunk), and another for 9-10 graders called Anaf (branches).

At Camp Herzl in Wisconsin, home of Episode #2 guest Andrew Zidel, there are…you know, their programs seem kind of expansive — just take a look for yourself.

These units do pretty much everything together* from morning to night, typically either split into groups within the unit or broken out by cabin (like for athletics). There are some periods where you can choose a specialty (often called “Chugim”, Hebrew for activities) like arts and crafts, athletics, or theater. And for something like swimming, everyone in the unit is in the pool at the same time.

* The notable exception at Jewish camps is Shabbat on Saturday, where usually kids are free to choose from a range of activities throughout the day. I have no idea if secular or Christian camps do anything special on Sundays — if someone wants to chime in on this below in the comments, feel free.

3. Are gentiles allowed to enroll in Jewish camps? If so, are they still required to take part in Jewish observances?

A good question, though one I’m not sure comes up very often. Typically, you go to a Jewish camp because you are, you know, Jewish. With Jacobs and GUCI, priority spots are reserved for members of reform Jewish synagogues (the camps are operated by the reform movement), and then beyond that others can enroll but must pay a little extra.

I think the main point to emphasize here is, most children go to camp for a specific reason — to be a part of a Jewish community (especially if there isn’t much of one at home), or to have an outdoor adventure, or to learn to use a musical instrument.

As far as observances go, I suppose it depends on the camp and the request, but in today’s more tolerant society, I would think accommodations would be made depending on the circumstances.

4. Was there any type of rivalry between your camp and any other local camp?

The camps Judy and I went to did not have nearby, rival camps like you see in movies and TV shows, but Camp Barney is right across a lake from Camp Coleman. As Greg mentioned in his episode, they would often play sporting events against each other, and I’m sure there were other interactions as well.

This seems like something that would be more prevalent in the non-Jewish camping world, which (again, an assumption) is much larger and therefore more likely to see camps cross paths.

5. Where were the counselors when the kids were sneaking off to see the opposite sex?

When the kids go to bed at night, staff members are assigned in rotation to sit nearby and make sure everything is copacetic. How easily kids can sneak out depends mostly on the culture of the camp or individual fuck-givingness of the staff member.

Generally speaking, if you’re not sitting on duty as a staff member, you are trying to do your own fraternizing with the opposite sex.

Other questions you need answered? Let us know in the comments.


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