30 years ago, I went to sleep away camp for the first time. I went to Camp Tawonga. It was and still is (I'm pretty sure) associated with the JCC of San Francisco. We always referred to it fondly as Hippie Camp. And, it was, and probably still is quite Kumbaya. But that is one of its most endearing qualities.
My cousins, who were unaffiliated with any shul, went to Tawonga, so when it came time for me to go, it seemed the natural choice even though most of my friends were going to Swig or Arazim (the Conservative movement's camps). I feel in love instantly. I only went for 2 weeks that first summer, but I lived the whole next year just to go back. And I kept going back until I was 16.
I loved being up in the mountains. Our cabins did not have electricity and the screens didn't keep the bugs out and it got pretty cold at night. Mice would find our cookies hidden in our trunks. Snakes slid across the walking paths. We were always dirty and always thirsty and always tired, but we'd stay up all night talking and having stories read or told to us or we would be sneaking out when the counselors weren't in the cabin with us.
Why would we sneak out? I know that one year, one girl snuck out for a smoke. But the rest of us usually snuck off to meet boys. Most kids 10 and up paired off. I shudder when I think of my son who is almost 10. I just can't see it. And I must thank G-d, because what does a 10 year old need with a boyfriend or girlfriend? At the time, though, I seemed to need and want one and I had them every summer. I could tell you all of their names and where they lived. That became a huge part of camp for me.
Camp was also an escape from what I thought was a tough childhood. How silly I was to think I had problems. Baruch Hashem, I had a pretty normal childhood. Nothing horrendous. Just the regular stuff, but being that it was my life, I thought it was bad. So, I lived for my summers at camp.
Tawonga is a Jewish camp. Reform and very liberal, but I was only slightly aware of that fact. We might have belonged to a conservative shul, but we were far from religious. But Tawonga gave me a real feel for Shabbos. Fridays, everyone had something to do for Shabbos. Either making challah or a special dessert or decorating the dining hall or setting up the tables or preparing a service or a skit. Everyone got involved. And a couple of hours before, everyone would take showers and dig around for a clean white shirt and if it wasn't clean, well, at least it was white. It was then that I learned all about preparing for Shabbos. And before we ate, there was kiddush, although, I don't remember if we washed before eating. I think we didn't. At the time, I didn't know we were missing anything. And it was at camp that I first heard of bentching after a meal. And of making the blessing before the meal, for that matter. Saturdays were lazy days. We usually had some kind of service on Saturdays and Friday nights, too. It was a relaxing day. Then, I was not aware of the ban of writing on Shabbos and I would write letters home on Saturday afternoons or I would read.
And I will always be grateful to Tawonga for instilling in me the love of Shabbos. Still, sometimes, when we aren't rushed getting ready at our house or at Lubavitch House, I remember how the director and a few other people would begin playing Shabbos songs on their guitars as they strolled through camp. STopping at each cabin and the campers filing out and following the musicians as they sang their way to the dining hall. I think that has to be one of my fondest memories ever, of all time.
And why do I mention camp now? Because I just found out they have a blog and I can read about what is going on there everyday! And pictures are posted. It's been 20 years since I've been there and I still carry Tawonga in my heart. I feel a bit sad that my children will never be able to go there and that is fine because it would be a culture shock for them. But I was there and I will always have my memories.
Camp always started on Father's Day so I'm feeling a bit homesick for the place these days.
(cross posted at http://www.yettabettaboo.blogspot.com)