Teens look forward to summer camps reopening

Pre-pandemic+scenes+of+summer+fun+at+Camp+Ben+Frankel+in+southern+Illinois%C2%A0

Pre-pandemic scenes of summer fun at Camp Ben Frankel in southern Illinois 

DANIEL SHANKER

After more than year of COVID-19, though we have learned how to cope with life during a pandemic, we are eager to return to normalcy. In-person schooling, more willing travelers and a historically fast vaccine rollout are all testaments to people’s eagerness to get back to normal.

But it bears asking: Can we ever return to what we think of as “normal?”

Last summer, many camps closed. Excited campers were turned down for the greater good. COVID has already stolen one summer from people. Will the upcoming one be more of the same?

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Yitzchak Rubin, a ninth-grader at Yeshivat Kadimah High School and a Young Israel congregant, attends Camp Stone, an Orthodox sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania.

“Last year, everything was on Zoom,” he said. “It wasn’t the same. [Everybody wasn’t] together like camp used to be a few years ago. There was a distance in connection of the camp community.”

One of the most significant reasons kids return to camps is the authentic community that is almost impossible to find anywhere else.

“[Previously at Camp Stone] everybody’s more together and more combined in all. It’s a huge community,” Yitzchak said. “During Shabbos, you’re with everybody davening and then you’re with everybody during lunch and all that. The whole sanctuary is filled up with all people, all the kids and all the staff members. My favorite part is meeting new people and new friends.”

For many, camp is like a family. The services, meals and social aspects bring people together. Because of the pandemic, even this year, the experience will undoubtedly be at least somewhat different.

“[At the beginning] there will be a little ‘we’re not knowing what to do, exactly’ type of feeling, but by the end, you’ll probably figure it out and see how it really works,” Yitzchak said.

Before leaving for Camp Stone, campers will be tested for COVID-19, and they will be tested again several days after they arrive.

“[It will still be a family] but in a more socially distanced way,” Yitzchak said.

Ben Spector is a sixth-grader at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School and a congregant at Kol Rinah. He attends Camp Kawaga in Wisconsin. 

“Last year, everyone got tested two weeks before they went to camp,” he said. “Then there were two weeks where you had to stay safe, and then you got tested one more time right before camp.”

Many camp experiences take place outdoors, giving camps a leg up over many (indoor) businesses. Kawaga is no different and was therefore able to have its campers live relatively freely.

“It was almost like a non-COVID world,” Ben said. “I mean, they kept cohorts for the first two weeks, and then they opened up camp completely. It was kind of a weird feeling. Even though [COVID-19] was kind of just starting, it was kind of worrying. 

“[But at Kawaga] it was like being in your own, separate world. You don’t have to worry about anything. There’s no stress put on you. Nothing in the world takes effect on you except the camp.”

People have been stuck at home for more than a year now, and camps might provide kids and teens the break they need. People are eager to socialize and take a break from COVID, and camps are one of the only places where that is not only possible, but safe.

“They really handled it so well,” Ben said.

For Yitzchak, predicting how Camp Stone will operate is a bit more difficult. Having not been in-person during the pandemic, campers have yet to see the precautions in effect.

“I think there’s going to be a difference in how the community is going to work out, but the overall standards and teachings in camp will probably be the same,” he said.

On the other hand, Kawaga has already had a successful go at it.

Ben said: “The fact that they tried [opening last year] really did help because there were so many camps that didn’t do it, [and] now it’s going to be their first year and they’re kind of taking a guess.”

Although precautions will certainly be implemented, camp this year projects to be safer and closer to normal than those that open last summer.

“I do believe that [this year] will be similar [in that] you’ll have to get a test, [and] I’m guessing the counselors will have the shot if they can get them,” Ben said. “I feel like it’s going to be actually more safe even though [the pandemic] has gotten worse. We [have more] experience.”

That said, there still must be regulations that would have been unfathomable a few years ago. Fortunately, the precedent set last year will be able to guide camps for the upcoming one. And even though this is Camp Stone’s first year hosting camp in a pandemic, a year’s worth of trial-and-error, along with the model set by in-person camps last year, will help establish a dependable foundation that will ensure both the safety and enjoyment of campers.

I will be a first-time camper at Stone, and I’m not quite sure what to expect. Navigating new cultures and settings is an adventure under normal circumstances, but COVID precautions will surely change the standard experience. At the beginning of camp, campers will be restricted to their cohorts, and I anticipate seeing powerful bonds and strong reliance form within them, especially among new campers like myself. I haven’t yet experienced the friendships that develop at camp, but I imagine that they may be magnified due to the circumstances.

Regardless, this will be a memorable year to begin my camp adventure. Inevitably, all campers will look back on its memories, glad that COVID is (hopefully) a thing of the past and nostalgic of the anticipation that it lent.

But for now, we hope for the best. 

“I just like it all,” Yitzchak said. “Camp is camp.”

Ohr Chadash Teen Page staff writer Daniel Shanker is a student at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.