October 17, 2018

A Perfect Orange

In addition to the usual bathing suits,
socks and shorts, as suggested by Camp Hess Kramer on
its inventory list, my daughter, Samantha, needed an
orange sweat shirt with blue (preferably royal) lettering
spelling out the words “Leadership ’97” on the front and
her name on the back. Right away, I could foresee

Leadership is a big deal at Wilshire Boulevard
Temple camps, which, after 45 years and 50,000
campers, are a big part of Los Angeles Jewish life. For
those 1,100 campers who will attend either Hess Kramer
or its sister, Gindling Hilltop, this summer, Leadership
walks on hallowed ground. Coming a stage before CIT,
two steps below counselor, Leadership is the crowning
achievement of camper life; part in-crowd, part initiation
into real authority.

“We sit with Administration!!!”
Samantha reminded me, nervously. Or, as Howard Kaplan,
camp director, wrote Samantha last February in his letter
of congratulations: “You become the bearer of a tradition
at Camp Hess Kramer, and you become a role model for
hundreds of younger campers who look up to

Mostly, it’s a lot of fun, marked by a three-day
hike, lots of singing, cheering and in-jokes, and, of course,
the distinguishing sweat shirt, a form of group of
cohesion. It all adds up to what most Leadership alumni
still recognize as “the time of their lives.”

“It comes at
exactly the right moment, when they’re most idealistic,”
Steve Breuer, executive director of Wilshire Boulevard
Temple, told me. He created the Leadership program
when he was camp director a generation ago. “But
because campers expect it to be wonderful, it is.”

As a
parent, I say it’s wonderful for me too. Jewish summer
camp is a 20th-century American innovation, and not
enough can be said in its favor. Through camp life, we see
contemporary Judaism in its three eternal verities:
Zionism, spiritual effusion, American idealism. Camp
builds all three into our children, hora and all, and, if this
is indoctrination, it works. There’s a suggestion that
Jewish camps begin an Israel component, taking high
school juniors to visit the Jewish state. Let me lobby
strongly for this worthwhile idea. In addition to locking
in Jewish values, camp may provide the only positive
Jewish experience, and the only Jewish community, a
child ever knows. Camp administrators would be more
than great tour guides; they’d know how to make the
Zionistic link explicit.

Certainly, if they could bottle
camp, and the feelings of purpose and joy a happy
camper brings into my family life, I’d be the first to

As for Leadership ’97, my daughter has been
looking forward to this special summer since her first 10-
day session at Hess Kramer seven years ago. From the
very beginning, camp has been the True North; its songs,
rituals and values provide the markers of real life,
making much of what we do at home seem like filling

That is to say, if Howard Kaplan and Craig
Marantz, God’s surrogate as Leadership Unit Leader, want
orange-and-blue sweat shirts this summer, well, who are
we to judge?

A week before camp’s opening day, we
began the search. Let me tell you, sweat shirts come in
3,000 shades of gold, yellow, peach and red. Likewise,
there are 12 brands of orange T-shirts — long sleeves,
short sleeves, T-shirts with blue logos (Nike, Russell
Athletic, Ralph Lauren). We’ve gone from Oshman’s to
Macy’s to Sportmart: In all Los Angeles, not one sweat
shirt in naranja.

We were dismayed but resolute.
Having failed at finding the perfect orange sweat shirt,
we would make one ourselves. What could there be to

“We’ll dye a white one,” I said, as if coloring apparel
is an everyday affair in my home. But after visiting a
dozen stores, and finding dyes mostly in black and
brown, I was turning pale.

“Do you think we can use
food coloring?” I asked the checkout clerk at Vons. I
described my plan to mix 12 drops of red with 24 drops
of yellow. An elderly gentleman shook his head.

sweat shirt is not a hard-boiled egg,” he said.

And, so,
we kept searching store to store until, the day before she
was to leave for camp, we came upon a bottle of RIT
labeled “Tangerine” in a market close to home.

it!” said Samantha.

“It’s Tangerine,” I said.

“It will be
orange enough for me.”

We still had to acquire the
letters, royal blue. The House of Fabrics had a white iron-
on cut-out alphabet, or large pieces of blue iron-on felt —
no pre-cut letters in blue.

So we bought white letters
and royal blue paint and stayed up all night, coloring
every single character of “Leadership ’97.”

In a wild,
manic way, it turned out to be fun. The camp officials, in
their wisdom, had not sent us on a wild-goose chase after
all. The sweat shirt was simply a form of karma yoga,
forging spirit and responsibility in campers by purposely
making them (and their parents) create the sweat shirts

Then the big day was upon us, and we
packed the orange/tangerine sweat shirt, bathing suits
and all into the car.

I drove my daughter up to camp;
Samantha ran to Craig Marantz as if he were a long-lost
cousin. I could only stand and stare.

“Your sweat shirt!”
I said to Craig. “Why is your sweat shirt red?” Moreover,
why was his lettering in white?

“Didn’t anyone tell
you?” he asked benignly. “The parents all complained, so
they changed the color to red.”

My face, in the car
mirror, was a perfect orange.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

All rights reserved by author.


Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man