Sleep Away Camp Photos are No Lie to Me

sleepaway camp

“Welcome back and Shalom!” were the words we heard upon entering Camp Sprout Lake as we pulled into the long driveway off the main road. I looked back at my daughter I in the back seat, her energy emanating with excitement. Camp was truly her home away from home and she was so happy to be back.

We’d come a long way since last summer when bringing her felt more akin to child abuse than anything else. As I rode the one hour, fifteen minutes to the Hudson Valley to leave her off for her one week “Taste,” she sat silently weeping in the front seat.  All the way home, I reminded myself that it was okay. You can’t expect your kids to be exactly like you. They have their own minds and this was her decision to make.

As the seven days went by, my guilt turned to relief, when every night I looked at the camp’s extensive and up to date online photo gallery and saw her smile extend as far north as humanly possible. I had never seen that look on her face before.

In the middle of the week, she emailed me and asked if she could stay for the full 3-1/2 week session. It broke my heart to turn her down, but we’d already made our summer plans and paid for another camp and big international trip at the end of the summer. We also hadn’t prepared her to spend a full month away and there was no way I could pack and get organized without her.

When I picked her up, I could feel a new vibe and I knew she was somehow forever changed. In just seven days, she became more outspoken, more vibrant, more confident, happier. The camp’s neshama and ruach had managed to rub off on her, and to be honest, she’s changed forever in the most positive way possible. My hope in sending her to a Zionist camp rubbed off on her, as well, and she came home with a new zest for Israeli music, dancing and stories about people who had an instrumental role in bringing the Jewish State to fruition.

We went back at the end of the session for Family Day, just so she could see her friends again. They were so happy to see her and the bonds she had formed in those few days were unlike any I have seen since my own childhood. We have spent much of the past few months preparing her belongings and getting what she needed on the long list together. She was literally packed and ready to go two weeks early, and that was my doing. As much as I knew I’d miss her, I was ready to see that smile again.

We dropped her off a few days ago and it was much easier than last year. There were hugs and kisses, but no tears. As a matter of fact, my daughter is so rational that when I suggested she take family photos to decorate her bunk with, she declined, adding that they would perhaps make her homesick.

There was never a question about which sleep away camp my daughter would go to. As soon as she was born, I started counting down the days until her first year at Camp Sprout Lake. As a former Young Judean and devoted member of Hadassah, I had my heart set on this one camp and looked at no others.

For my husband, the decision wasn’t as easy. He wasn’t raised going to Jewish camp, yet alone Jewish sleep away camp. As the time got closer to her departure for her one week “taste” last summer, he begrudged her going. He couldn’t understand why I would want to send my daughter away from home.

This summer he now understands. We feel ferklempt to be able to send her to a place where she is so comfortable, free-spirited and welcome. There are Israeli counselors, they have a big mitzvah project and Shabbat is a very big deal every week. They also pray before and after meals, which is not something we do at home (and something she would complain about if we did), but she doesn’t mind.

Last night was the first night he suggested we head to the camp’s online gallery to catch up on her day before me. The camp had a special Shabbat the night before and everyone at camp wore something white. She looked spectacular in the dress I had bought for it, and that smile knocked every other smile right out of the ballpark.

The pictures don’t lie

Some say that camp photos aren’t truly indicative of the sleep away experience, that they only capture the happy moments.

In my daughter’s case, these pictures don’t lie. I expect to hear great stories and for her to change even more than she did last summer. Her new memories will include sing-alongs by the campfire and camp outs in the woods. These are the experiences you get at camp, and these are the ones that stay with you forever.

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  1. This is beautiful. How old is your daughter?

    Mine is 7 and this is the first year she’s been away from us at her grandparents’ home and it was a huge difference and a crazy experience but we both did really well. 😉

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  2. Thanks, Jen. My husband hails from the UK and doesn’t believe in it so it was really all my coercion. Best thing I ever did (next to holding my son back in school).

  3. I have been thinking so much about overnight camp these days as this seems to be the year when so many of my friends back in NJ are sending their kids away to camp. I loved my overnight camp experience SO much. It was THE formative experience of my youth. It wasn’t an overtly zionist camp but we did have a secular sort of shabbat service on Friday nights. My oldest son is 11 1/2 (I started camp the summer I turned 11) and i realize that it’s unlikely we will ever send him to sleepaway camp as it’s not done here in Israel and the tuition for camp PLUS airfare would be exorbitant (camp itself these days, man, it’s like private school tuition.) I am SO happy for you and your daughter and your family’s adjustment to this summer experience. I hope it continues to bring you all joy in different ways.

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