“You send your kids to Jewish sleepaway camp in Mississippi? Wow, that sounds hot!”
This refrain is one that my husband and HSJ Camp alum, Jacob, and I hear quite often–and usually, the next response we get is, “Why?!” As a family, we are members of a large Conservative Synagogue and our kids go to Jewish Day School in Washington, DC, so Jewish summer camp is the norm for most of their peers. Yet, most of our kids’ peers head to nearby camps that are traditionally “observant,” or camps that are attended by many classmates and local peers. For our family, we chose a different path–we chose HSJ, and there are so many reasons why!
1-Legacy and friendship! When I met my husband, Jacob, I was immediately introduced to the HSJ magic. His younger sister, Mimi, was a “maskilimer” and I’ll never forget sitting around the family dinner table in Little Rock (I grew up on the Jersey Shore!), hearing about Mimi’s summer–the friends, the skits, the songs, the friendship. My in-laws, Richard and Emily Lewis, loved HSJ with a fierceness and dedication that makes HSJ the incredible community that it is. Even though our own kids were a far off distant idea at the time, it became clear that one day they too would be HSJ campers. Now each summer, we eagerly wait to see the “Session 2 Alumni Picture.” I tear up when I see this picture–knowing that our children feel a part of the Jacobs family. Their camp friends are the children of my husband’s camp friends, childhood friends, and our college friends. This continuity helps create deep and long-lasting life experiences and friendships.
2-Values! For my husband, Jacob, and me, middot and mitzvot, Jewish morals and values, are the foundation of our family life. These morals and values–kindness, family, community, respect, connection to the earth, being joyfully Jewish–are the lived values of HSJ as well. For children to exist communally in an environment where these values are lived, felt, seen, and heard is remarkable and the foundation of life.
3-Jewish Experience! We are fortunate to live a rich Jewish life day in and day out. It is important to me and Jacob, that our children understand that living a Jewish life means many things . Before camp this summer, our family traveled to Israel to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of our eldest son, Hersh. Through bar mitzvah preparation, Hersh became a competent and eager torah reader and davener. When I saw pictures of torah reading from the first Shabbat of 2nd session, I reached out to Anna to inquire if campers can read torah. Through the support of Rabbi Katie Bauman (a lifelong friend), Anna, and Rabbi Todd Silverman, Hersh was invited to read torah in front of the entire camp, his k’hillah kedosha, the very next Shabbat. This opportunity, for Hersh to give back Jewishly, perform the mitzvah of torah reading for the camp community, is one that he will hold onto and hopefully repeat many times over.
4-Closeness to the HSJ Staff! As an “out of region” family, one might assume that we feel less of a connection to the happenings in Utica, or the HSJ staff–the truth is quite the opposite. Anna and her incredible team of camp professionals go above and beyond to make our family–and every family–feel seen, heard, and embraced. Whether it’s an email exchange about what kind of veggie burgers my vegetarian children would like to have on hand at meals, working collaboratively to organize a HSJ “DC/Maryland/Virginia” Camp meet-up in the middle of the winter, a phone call at 10pm on a Saturday night from the camp pediatrician (who, of course, knew my husband as a camper!) telling us our daughter, Alte, is doing “just fine!”, or a standard email exchange filled with specific details about our kids experience—with the reply being overwhelming gratitude, the HSJ Staff makes our family (and every family) feel embraced, supported, and valued. The counselors, mishlachat, unit heads, specialists, rabbis, and musicians, all make camp magical!
5-Organized Programmatic Chaos! As someone who did not grow up going to summer camp, I am constantly in awe of how smoothly camp runs! I often tell people, “HSJ is the most beautifully organized programmatic chaos I could ever wish for!” From messy nights (THE HIGHLIGHT OF EVERY SUMMER!), song sessions, talent shows, the blob, cooking, biking, art, and bunk nights–every experience is so well curated, yet so carefree and fun!
6-The Promise of Next Summer! When our children arrive home, the longing for “when will we go back to camp?” is almost immediate. After home showers, sleep, and a few meals, the HSJ Spotify playlist gets going, we learn the new dances, and the camp stories start to flow. We know that the magical feeling of driving down Morrison Road, and heading through the gates of camp will come again—next summer is a promise, a guarantee, a hug waiting to be had!
We are so grateful Hersh and Alte are living their best HSJ life! Our youngest son, Sender, has a few more years to go, but one day we will live the true dream of all HSJ parents–and send all three of our children to their summer home—a place filled with southern Jewish life, laughter, friendship!
About the Author
Darci Aplebaum Lewis
Darci Aplebaum Lewis is the Senior Educator & Family Center Director at Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. She is also a Perinatal Doula & Lactation Consultant. Darci, her HSJ Camp Alum husband, Jacob, and their three children, Hersh, Alte, and Sender love the beach, celebrating Shabbat with friends, and going for early morning walks.
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