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Test-Driving Overnight Camp

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
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Maxon (second from the left) during a color war at the Hebrew school retreat at Harlam.

This past weekend, my son's 4th grade Hebrew school class went on an overnight retreat at Camp Harlam, the Reform Jewish sleepover camp. It was Maxon's first time at an overnight camp and I was curious to see if he might like to spend part of his summer there. 

While many of my girlfirends have been sending their kids to overnight camp for the past two summers, my boys still go to a day camp program and I am fine with that. Overnight camp is expensive, and I don't see the need to send my kids away while they still enjoy my company at the beach.

"It's great for their independence!" my friends argue. 

"They make such good friends!"

"It's a unique growing experience!"

Yeah. Not sold. I get it, about overnight camp. But I also know that parents who send their kids to overnight camp usually loved overnight camp themselves. I am not one of those parents. My first year at Pine Forest I was 14, very uncool, and stuck with girls who emotionally tortured me on the regular. It was bad enough to endure such torment at school, but at least I could go home at 3 p.m.  At sleepover camp, there is no escape from the girls who hate you. They are in your bedroom, your dining room, your shower and your mind.

However, if I ever was going to send my boys to camp, it would be a Jewish one. I've heard about studies that demonstrate how Jewish camp creates a stronger feeling of Jewish identity, which was certainly the case for my close girlfriend, who has not-so-subtly pushed me towards Harlam for the past two years.

When I pick Maxon up on Sunday, he's all smiles, spent but happy. He tells me about how late he stayed up, when he drank soda, how much powdered sugar went on his French toast, how the girls chased him "until my heart hurt" and how there were more curses in The Princess Bride than he remembered. 

"Anything Jewish happen?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah. We prayed all day long. But Rabbi Eli was the best. He is the coolest rabbi. He actually does funny stuff so I'm not bored."

Then I hear Rabbi Eli Freedman's song about the Ten Constipated Men in the Bible: "Cain, he wasn’t able. Then there was Noah, he had an arkfull. Then there was Pharoah. He wouldn't let them go."

OK, Maxon. Thank you. Glad you were paying attention. But then, when I ask what else he liked, he offers a bit of information I didn’t expect:

"I liked that everyone was Jewish. I felt like I wasn't alone. There was a Christmas trailer in the movie, and everyone complained and that was fun because I complained with them."

I ask if he would want to try out Camp Harlam for two weeks next summer.

"I would like to go back, but only if one of my friends went, too. I would be into Jewish camp. Because it was fun, being Jewish and everyone else being Jewish. I wish I could re-live the weekend. It was so much fun!"

This from the child who threw nuclear tantrums in Congregation Rodeph Shalom's sanctuary every Sunday in protest of Hebrew school. This from the child who swore he would never go to overnight camp. And me, considering sending my child away before he gets sick of me. But it's only November. I don't have to decide anything now. 

Maxon says he's tired and asks if he can watch TV. I tousle his hair and let him go. He trots down the steps, humming Modeh Ani

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