By Ari Kalfus
“This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
From The West Wing episode “Noël”
This quote from a The West Wing episode has been on my mind a lot lately as I walk the dusty gravel paths of Goldman Union Camp Institute and watch my friends and colleagues interact with their campers. This is my first year on Top Deck, and it is still a little strange to not have any campers of my own. As I watch my friends and their campers, I remember the counselors who taught me, the friends I made, and the cabin mates I grew up with, and I can relate to the intensity of friendship displayed in this quote.
Camp truly is a support group. There is so much freedom to explore who you want to be that, in the end, there is nothing you cannot tell these people. There is an instinctual bond between campers, tied by shared experience, which cannot be explained or rationalized. It simply exists, and it creates an incredibly close community. It is a community in which everyone feels comfortable and safe and trusted.
This is a special bond that is not confined to GUCI – it exists in all overnight summer camps. There is something about the freedom of a summer camp – for many children, camp is the first major length of time away from their parents. I have heard a saying that any Jew can travel around the world and, upon meeting another Jew, instantly feel a familiarity with him or her. The same is true for those who have grown up at a summer camp.
For example, I just finished my freshman year at a college outside of Boston, MA. After only a few minutes with the people on my dorm, I could point to some and say, “They have definitely gone to camp.” Maybe it was their maturity, their self-confidence, their behavior, or the way they set their priorities, but there was something in them, some quality that I recognized as having been instilled in a summer camp. Perhaps it was that, at camp, I’ve experienced countless programs and leadership styles, and, working at camp, I’ve had a lot of practice experimenting with both. Coming to college wasn’t my first taste of major independence and the freedom to do as I please; for the most part, I had been “independent” (counselor supervision notwithstanding) every summer for the past nine years. All of this has made me a richer person, a more solid person. And I could see this reflected in others. I saw the security that comes with the knowledge that they have a place, a special home, where they will always be welcome and where they will always be happy. I saw the confidence that comes with strong, lifelong friendships. I saw the assurance that, if they fell into a hole, they would not have just one friend jumping down to them, but a dozen.
I saw these things, and I went up to those kids and asked, “Where did you go to camp?”
And they told me.
Are you an overnight camp alum? Tell us about your camp in the comments below!