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Old memories give way to new at summer camp
September 17th, 2004
A part of me was raised at Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp. I started as a camper the summer I moved to Milwaukee, only a few months before my fifth birthday.
The ceaseless antics, such as the daily devious missions to take over camp and the overall carefree ambiance, were incentive enough for me to return summer after summer.
These same nostalgic reasons influenced me to become a lifeguard and counselor this past summer, thirteen years after my first season there.
It was during afternoon assembly on the day of the counselor-in-training overnight that camp director Lenny Kass announced the cancellation of the prank on the CITs, which had been previously scheduled for that evening. Apparently, I discovered later, some of the counselors had conspired to return to camp in the middle of the night to scare the CITs.
Everyone was hot and tired and I was upset. I doubt anyone cared as I did, but, to me, this was drastic. Even though I wasnt directly involved, the abolishment of this plan spoiled the enchanting environment of pranks and games that I had grown up with.
The day after the CIT overnight, I arrived at camp to find out that the announcement had been a sly deception; a successful prank on the CITs had been administered. I wouldnt expect any less from my summer home.
As the summer progressed, I reminisced as I watched campers build their memories, so similar to mine. Their naiveté was truly captivating. It allowed their imaginations to open doors that weve blocked with rationale and practicality.
As a staff member at a Jewish summer camp, I found it humorously stereotypical that food was the central driving force when the kids needed persuasion. If the kids were misbehaving, you take away their snack. If they win a competition, you give them an extra snack. And if a group takes a counselors clipboard hostage, more often than not, the kids demand a snack.
Another day, while I was sitting under the pavilion during a post-lunch song session, it hit me that the counselors frequent launches into the agam (lake) reminded me of the Salem witch trials.
For a counselor to be thrown in the agam, no reason was necessary except a request by the campers, a birthday or other detail. At any second, the crowd could turn their attention to you. No one was safe.
A remarkable aspect of JCC-RDC was the dynamic among staff members. Just like any group of young adults, everyone had people they were closer to than others. But unlike many other groups, there was a team-like affiliation that prevented the domination of cliques. During lunch, when the counselors ate separately from the campers, there were no assigned lunch tables. I ate with different people every day.
These incidents reminded me why a day camp counselor is such a highly sought out summer profession, despite the minimal salary.
As with any summer job, some days flew by and others dragged on tediously. On one of these particularly long days, I trudged to afternoon assembly to find that we were instead holding a campfire.
When I sat down on the wobbly wooden bench with one of my campers on my lap, the feeling of anxiety for the day to end was quickly erased. The last half hour of that day was one of the many times this summer that I couldnt remember if I was there to work or to play.