Hello Ima, Hello Abba: Summer Camp for the Young at Heart

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Kids aren’t the only ones enjoying their time in the crisp, mountain air. For some adults, it’s not too late to head back to camp this summer, too.

Summer camp: a time for roasting marshmallows for s’mores, exhausting your supply of bug spray that your mother made you pack, hiking through the wilderness and fostering friendships.
 
But kids aren’t the only ones enjoying their time in the crisp, mountain air. For some adults, it’s not too late to head back to camp this summer, too.
 
Susan Silverman has been an avid camper since she was a kid herself.
 
She will be heading to Camp Nock-A-Mixon in Kintnersville for her ninth summer this June, three of which were spent as a counselor when she was in college.
 
Her job at the camp has varied over the years, but she is mainly in charge of running the cooking class, where she and the campers make one or two recipes each week based on a different theme.
 
She also has been a supervisor to the junior and middle girls and still teaches swim to the junior girls, tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah students and transports staff to the bus or train station on their days off.
 
“I love interacting with the kids. I love interacting with the staff. I enjoy being away from home in summer,” said Silverman, who lives in Chalfont during the other three seasons of the year.
 
And during that time, she teaches preschool at several Bucks and Montgomery county schools, as well as Hebrew school.
 
Silverman has such a strong connection to summer camp because she attended Adventureland Day Camp in Bensalem for 18 years growing up.
 
“I am still friendly with some of those kids that I grew up with,” she added. “When I worked at Nock-A-Mixon in college, I made some really good friendships that I still have. There’s just something so special about spending your summer with a group of girls or boys that you just have special bond with that you can’t get with anybody else.”
 
The majority of the campers at Nock-A-Mixon are Jewish, and Silverman said she hopes her own children maintain these special bonds over the years.
 
Chalfont isn’t a predominantly Jewish area, so she emphasized that “it’s important for me that my kids developed relationships with Jewish children.”
 
“They have these bonds with these kids that they don’t have with anybody else,” said Silverman, who belongs to Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen.
 
In addition to her own children fostering friendships, she has the opportunity to share her summer camp experience with her children, Jeffrey, 20, and Carly, 17 — though they do get to have some of their own independence, too.
 
Both attended Nock-A-Mixon for nine years. Jeffrey spent one summer as a counselor, and Carly will follow that same path this year.
 
“It’s such a great experience,” Silverman said. “I just feel so honored and so blessed that I was able to work at a camp so that my kids were able to go to camp.”
 
She said the camp owners, Mark and Bernice Glaser, know every single kid. Her son attended the camp before she started working there, so she was able to see the other side of camp as a parent.
 
When she received the infamous summer camp letter from her soon-to-be sixth-grader Jeffrey — with some lines like “I miss you,” “I’m lonely” and “come get me” — she called the camp. 
 
Within 10 minutes, both Glasers checked in on him and called Silverman back, saying he was now walking up from the lake and having a great time with new friends.
 
It’s the subtle behind-the-scenes extra care and attentiveness that makes summer camp so special. 
 
When she was a camper, the summer was all about being with her friends and playing sports.
 
“Now, as an adult at an overnight camp,” Silverman continued, “you just meet people from all over. One of the things I really like about driving counselors on their off days is that [Nock-A-Mixon has] staff from England, and the kitchen and maintenance staff is from Hungary and Poland, so none of them have cars.”
 
When she drives them around, “we get to chat, and it’s just so interesting learning about them. It kind of makes me feel young at heart.”
 
Bart Davis is also young at heart and will be 69 by the time the festivities start at Camp Galil in June. He has worked there for 21 summers, now going on 22.
 
Camp Galil, located in Ottsville, was founded by an international youth movement, Habonim Dror North America, the progressive Labor-Zionist youth movement.  
 
Davis primarily works as a liaison between the camp and parents to ensure that everyone is enjoying their summer while also providing support to counselors and campers.
 
It may not always be exciting, but it’s a core part of running the camp smoothly.
 
“Sometimes it’s as mundane as ‘my son needs to make some course selections for next year,’ and sometimes it’s more detailed than that,” he explained.
 
A retired elementary school teacher from Northeast Philadelphia, Davis enjoys spending his summers with “energetic, intelligent young people.”
 
He went to Boy Scout camp when he was a kid — Treasure Island in Point Pleasant, which has since been shut down due to storm flooding damage. 
 
At Galil, Davis runs activities like teaching kids how to carve a soapstone, which he’s been doing since 1995.
 
Treasure Island was a different type of summer program than Galil, but things like bonfires and campfire songs are always relatable across camp lines.
 
He added that Jewish summer camps foster a special connection for campers and staff alike.
 
“If they’re very well connected” in the Jewish community, Davis continued of his campers, “it will not have much of an impact. If they’re not very well connected to the Jewish community, they become very aware of Israel and very aware of Jewish culture. They’re immersed in it 24/7.”
 
For example, teaching Israel can be as simple as baking and decorating a cake in the shape and design of the country in order to explain what Israel looks like and where major cities are located.
 
“There’s a lot of education that goes on, but it’s all informal Jewish education,” he said. “And they make lifelong friends in the Jewish community, and that’s important.
 
“In the long run, we push a lot of responsibility on our campers. Most of the people who work at the camp besides our Israelis are homegrown. What I enjoy most is watching kids grow up and learn to take responsibility and learn to work as a team with their friends to accomplish things.
 
“That’s probably the most satisfying thing: watching young people grow up and become leaders.” 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737

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