Return to ‘making friends and memories’ with reopening of Jewish summer camps


Teens pose for a photo at Camp Stone, an Orthodox sleepaway camp in Sugar Grove, Penn.

Daniel Shanker, Freshman, Yeshivat Kadimah High School

Editor’s Note: This is a sequel to Daniel’s previous article for Ohr Chadash: “Teens look forward to summer camps reopening.”

While COVID-19 has thrown our lives into a frenzy, many kids and teens have experienced one aspect of good, “old fashioned” life: summer camps.

For some, camps were a return to normalcy, but for others, they were foreign territory. Nevertheless, novice and seasoned campers alike can reflect on this unique and unprecedented experience.

I had an opportunity to analyze my summer as well, as I attended Camp Stone, an Orthodox sleepaway camp in Sugar Grove, Penn., for the first time last summer.


Between the long day of traveling and the late hour, I was already fatigued when I entered through Stone’s gates. However, I was in a new place with new people and new cultures, and it kept me on my toes.

As I got more accustomed to camp, settling into the routine and learning my way around, I began making more friends.

“My favorite part is probably all the friends and memories I’ve made,” said Yitzchak Rubin, a sophomore at Yeshivat Kadimah High School, Young Israel congregant and fellow Camp Stone camper. “For the first few days, they broke us up into age-group cohorts, and you [weren’t allowed to] leave your cohort to be with another group.” Once the entire camp tested negative for COVID-19, restrictions were lifted and the community returned to normal.

Camp contained countless opportunities to find commonalities, in everything from art to cooking to various sports. Downtime in the bunk provided opportunities to bond, too.

“There’s people who you make memories with that you will never forget,” Rubin said.  “I was always hanging out with my friends, having fun.”

One commonality was unanimous: Judaism. Being a Jewish camp, campers davened three times per day, observed Shabbat, kept kosher and had regular opportunities to learn Torah.

Zahava Kiernan, a freshman at Maplewood Richmond Heights and a congregant at Central Reform Congregation, attended Camp Sabra, a camp on the Lake of the Ozarks.

“[The first days are] different because you’re just settling in,” Kiernan said. “You just got there, you get to meet your counselors, you get to reconnect with your friends—but for me, it feels like home. I get to relax and be me and connect with friends. There’s a great community.”

Sabra, being on Lake of the Ozarks, has many water-oriented activities.

“There’s a ski dock where you do things like water skiing, tubing and wakeboarding—tubing is everybody’s favorite activity. It’s so much fun,” Kiernan said. “[And] I caught two really big catfish one day—we throw them back [though].”

At camp, friends become the foreground of your life, making it a big family.

“You do everything with these people, like a family,” Rubin said. “You eat, you have conversations, you [share] stories.”

At camp, people can sit next to each other at a meal, strike up a conversation and eventually become lifelong friends.

“You bond a lot with your cabin (mates) because you spend a lot of time with them. You eat with them, you’re in the same living area,” Kiernan said. “But then when you go to activities and meals, that’s also an opportunity to talk to [new] people.”

Another unique part of camp is the authenticity. “We have Shabbat dinner, which is the whole camp together, and then we do services, which are really nice,” Kiernan said. “Everybody wraps their arms around each other.”

When people are happy, you can feel it, and it’s contagious. I could feel that authenticity when the community sings together, and friends and strangers wrap their arms around each other and sway side to side with heartfelt passion.

“I felt the most camp ruach during shira and slow shira (singing sessions) where all the camp is together and singing. I feel like that’s a camp specialty,” Rubin said. “Those moments of singing with your friends, right next to each other, and singing your hearts out with them, and sometimes even crying—that’s a spirit that isn’t repeatable. You can’t do it with other groups because you always have the camp tunes, you always have your camp friends.”

When people are singing together, and their hearts and souls are invested in this incredible moment, the message is clear—in Kiernan’s words: “Just being at camp is what makes camp special.”

One of my most memorable camp moments was one that I wasn’t looking forward to: the notorious 3 a.m. hike.

One morning, at—you guessed it—3 a.m., our counselors woke us up and informed us of the hike’s arrival. We quickly loaded our backpacks and stepped out into the moonlight. We hiked for several miles, watching the sun rise and chatting with one another before we stopped to daven Shacharis and eat breakfast in a field. It was something I’d never done before, and despite its hindrance to much-needed sleep, it’s a moment I’m glad I got to participate in.

That said, it’s never a particular hike or art project or sports game that gives camp meaning. It’s the people that you do it with.

“[The hikes can] go on for hours, [but] these people that you just have casual conversations with [make] all those hours you’ve been hiking seem so short,” Rubin said.

“Camp Sabra is the highlight of my summer,” Kiernan said. “After meals, when everybody cheers and we have song sessions—that’s very camp. It flies by so fast.”