Jewish summer camp is great … at least, that’s what I hear.
My dirty little secret is that I never attended one. I know what all the studies show — that it’s a great way to make friends, explore new interests and cement Jewish identity — but my parents chose a different path.
Instead of dropping my brothers and me off at camp, my mom and dad took camp with us. They bought a 24-foot RV, christened it “The Bug Whacker” and hit the road. Before I graduated high school, we had visited all 48 of the continental United States.
Like every one of the stories I hear about camp, my summer vacations in the Winnebago were among the most influential times of my young life. I communed with nature, made spontaneous friendships and, in retrospect, even learned something about Jewish values.
This is not to say that there was anything explicitly Jewish about our family vacations. We didn’t go searching for sites of religious significance or celebrate Shabbat as we motored from city to city. (If only we’d had this month’s “How to Jew” column to show us what we were missing!)
Still, how could you look out over the sublime beauty of the Grand Canyon or up at the top of a towering, ageless redwood and not know that God exists?
How could you travel 7,000 miles over the course of one summer in the same vehicle as your parents — admiring their pluck, their enthusiasm and their endless willingness to keep replaying “Eye of the Tiger” on the tape player — and not learn to honor thy father and mother?
I witnessed more random acts of tzedakah than I can count, but one of my favorites was when a thunderstorm blew in without warning and a clown rescued our family of five from a Wyoming rodeo, driving us back to our campground. It’s hard to not love the stranger when something like that happens.
I still occasionally watch the home videos of those trips on a VHS player, and I love seeing my late father pretend to be a reporter for his imagined TV station WSMITH at every stop. They were good times, the kinds of times I want my kids to have. And yet I know I’ll probably never have the luxury of owning an RV, or the time to drive them to the East Coast and back.
That’s why I feel so blessed to live in Southern California, where we can drive as a family for less than two hours to get to any one of a number of beautiful seaside or mountaintop camps where my kids can experience some of the same things — and more. Whether my boys get a traditional Jewish overnight summer camp experience — updated for the times — or we go to family camp, where I can join in the fun, the possibilities here are endless and exciting.
There will be one big difference, of course, as my kids explore the great outdoors at camp. Instead of being in the Bug Whacker, I have a feeling they will have to get used to being the bug whacker.