Coming Home from Camp


Coming Home from Camp

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, The Observant Jew


Chazal teach us that certain times in the year contain echoes of events that occurred at those times in previous years. Essentially, we move through life in a spiral pattern (some would prefer the term ‘helix’) going around and around the central core of the universe and passing by familiar places in space and time.

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An example of this is how Chanuka wasn’t established until the following year and the sages then felt a heightened sanctity in the days of the calendar which corresponded to those miraculous events. Pesach must always be in the spring, which is why we have leap years that add an extra month of Adar. As the summer winds down, my mind drifted to thoughts of summer camp coming to an end and I wanted to grasp a few final moments of inspiration from this summer institution.

I went to sleepaway camp for six years. The first year I was very young. I don’t remember much about it, other than winning an award for the “Most creative excuses to visit the infirmary.” The next year I went to a camp with some kids from school and I do have some strong memories from that year, like the stories the head counselor told us about when he went to Communist Russia to smuggle in Jewish books and Tefillen and the KGB showed him their displeasure before a miracle enabled him to leave the country. Yeah, that and the gray oatmeal that was pretty good once I added 16 packets of sugar to it.

After that I went to Camp Kol Torah in Cleveland, on the grounds of the Telshe Yeshiva. The first year I called my parents every day, crying that I wanted to come home. I’m sure it was hard for them to remain positive and upbeat as I cried and complained. But they did it.

The next year, I called and repeated this behavior slightly less often. The third year I called once to twice a week and said it was, “OK.” The fourth year, about two and a half weeks into camp I got a message from home: “You still have a family.” I’d been having such a good time I simply forgot to call!

When my kids were in camp, I got the teary phone calls of homesickness and “this kid was mean to me,” or “my counselor hates me.” It wasn’t easy but it was my job as a parent so I stoically listened to them and told them it would be alright. What made it worthwhile were the (few-and-far-between) glowing reports of how much fun they were having and I felt my money (so much of it!) had been well-spent getting my children these important life experiences and having the opportunity to simply enjoy themselves.

Well, as you know by now, to me, nothing in life is just what it simply appears to be. I got to thinking how before we’re born, HaShem decides to send us to “camp.” We will go away from home and get a taste of independence. Hopefully in the process we’ll mature, and learn a lot of different things about ourselves, the world, and other people.

While we’re off on this adventure, there are typically lots of times we’ll call home. Most often it will be crying and pleading to our Father, complaining about the imagined hurts and the real ones, asking Him to save us or at the very least send money for the canteen.

He will listen to us and feel compassion for us, but He won’t bring us home because he knows what a crucial experience it is for us. He will tell us to hang in there, and possibly send us camp packages that ease the pain, but at the end of the day, He’s sent us to a place where we can have fun and enjoy ourselves while learning valuable lessons. There’s a whole team of people dedicated to ensuring we have a good time, so why do we spend so much of it complaining?

I know HaShem is infinitely more patient than I am, and has unlimited compassion, but I’d have to imagine that like any parent, He’d like to hear us saying thank you and being positive about the experience a little more often.

He knows how much He invested in making this experience a good one for us, and how we underestimate just how wonderful it is. I can only imagine that the more we complain, the less interested He would be in sending us back the following year, which is exactly what we’ll be asking for come Rosh HaShana!

So let’s take the lesson from camp which happens the month before Rosh HaShana each year and make it our business to thank HaShem and tell Him what a wonderful time we’re having at Camp Human Being. Let’s express our appreciation for all He does for us BEFORE it’s time to come home.


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