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Life After Zionist Summer Camp [View All]

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Violet_Crumble Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-18-11 07:43 PM
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Life After Zionist Summer Camp
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It starts at a very young age. The summer after third grade, my parents sent me to Jewish sleepaway camp. I was deeply homesick at first and cried a lot in my bunk bed, but by the end of the month I didn't want to leave. So I went back, summer after summerboarding the plane with a few other Jewish kids from my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and flying to Appleton, Wisconsin, with a stop-over at O'Hare, where a volunteer from Hadassah would meet us at the gate and try to keep us from the moo shu pork at Wok-N-Roll.

Those summers blur together, but each day begins and ends at the flagpole, where we raise and lower two flags: the American and the Israeli. We make blue and white lanyard bracelets, carve Israel out of ice cream, and sing "Hatikvah." Because it's all Jews, I'm considered cute. The second summer, a boy (Avi, short, red-hair) asks me out ("Will you go with me?" "Go where?") and I get my first kiss. Other kids from home also go to Jewish camp, but mine is different. It is, I learn, part of a Zionist youth movement. I am in a movement! Weird names like Jabotinsky and Herzl float through the air. I don't have to know particulars to realize that these guys are (a) important, and (b) connected to me, and I to them.

There are real live Israelis at camp every summer. They have awesome names like Michal and Eyal and are rock stars with their rolling Rs and Israeli scout uniforms. They make me nervous. There's Israeli dancing and Israeli singing and on movie night, we watch Raid on Entebbe. The counselors talk to us about "tikkun olam," which roughly translates to "repairing the world"this is something that Jews do very well because we are very good people.
Every so often we all pile into an empty cabin and are asked to stand under whichever sign taped to the wall best represents our idea of Zionism. Things like: "giving money to Israel," "observing Jewish customs," "moving to Israel." The older I get, the cooler it becomes to stand under the "moving to Israel" sign. So I do. Our counselors tell us that they plan to spend a year in Israel after high school and this seems like something I might want to do too. Whatever "the diaspora" is, it does not sound good.

Summer ends, I go back home, I feel different. I stay up late talking to my camp friends on the phone. They're in Lexington and Chicago and South Bend and Okemos, Michigan. Their lives are more Jewish than mine. They keep koshersome have never even been to McDonald's! This would be, in Youngstown, exotic. Tuesdays and Thursdays after regular school comes Hebrew School, which I dread like everyone else. We learn things that don't apply to meThe Red Sea? The Burning Bush?or are vague. A teacher hands out crayons and construction paper and ask us to draw a picture of God. I draw a big abstract swirl and then another. Ryan Kramer draws Kermit the Frog with a top hat. At 13, I have a Bat Mitzvah with an "SNL"-themed after party. That same year I visit my camp friends in Chicago and smoke my first cigarette and talk about joining the Israeli army. I don't know about Palestinians. No one told me.
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