Jewish Summer Camp: Where Friends Become Family
In 1975, I was a little girl coming to URJ Camp Harlam,a Jewish sleepaway camp, following in my cousin’s footsteps. I hung on to her for dear life every time we passed each other in camp. Slowly I began to develop friendships with the girls in my bunk, loosening my tight grip on my cousin. As the days went on, friendships and bonds for life were developing.
I returned the next summer, and the summer after that, and every summer after that, even when my cousin no longer joined me. My bunk mates were now my family when we were at camp and even when we were not. We went through the b’nai mitzvah years, the sweet 16 parties, and then we were entering college and even becoming staff members at camp. We were forging lifelong relationships, sharing our love for camp and a closeness that could only develop in a community such as ours.
As our adult lives began, we got married and started our own families. Bridal parties, baby-naming celebrations, brit milahs, and birthday parties became camp reunions. Many stories of camp and song sessions were being passed on to our children.
When my oldest son was of camp age, I dropped him off at his bunk, flooded with warm camp memories. Looking around camp for familiar faces of my past, I wished that I could stay too. I was not alone in this wish, as my son became friends with children of many Alumni parents, becoming family together as a new generation of friends.
As my son continued the love for camp the next few years, I was offered an amazing opportunity to return to URJ Camp Harlam, this time as the camp's health center supervisor. By this time, I was the mother of one camper and two more future Harlam campers. The health center was calling, and so I happily returned. A rush of memories filled my head as I walked up that hill to the chapel in a sea of white-clad campers on Shabbat. But now, I was experiencing a new love for camp, as seen through the eyes of my children.
As I walked into the health center for the first time, I felt like that little girl walking into the bunk, wanting to grab on to the hand of her cousin. As the days went on, something happened that I never expected. A new family was developing, one now made up of nurses and doctors. Not only had we become a team, but now we were a bunk of friends developing those same lifelong bonds as I had with my fellow campers as kids! Year after year we returned together, as our children became staff members. Every summer, we are fortunate to welcome a few more members and watch our family grow.
Before I returned at camp this summer, I went to a mall to do some camp shopping. When I was finished, I went back out to my car I noticed a note under my windshield. I thought, "Oh, great. Someone hit my car!" But when I looked at the note, it read, "We noticed your Camp Harlam magnet, and we are Harlamites too!” On the note was a drawing of the chapel on the hill.
A camp friend is family forever, no matter where you go… and no matter where you park your car!
Harra Hershman is the health center supervisor at URJ Camp Harlam, a Jewish sleepaway camp in Kunkletown, PA.