September 19, 2019

Notes on Hebrew Camp

“In the summer of 1954, Morris Freedman went to camp—a Jewish summer camp. Nothing unusual about that, not at first blush. By the 1950s, American Jewish parents could choose from among any number of summertime options: Massad and Ramah catered to those moms and dads interested in immersing their offspring in a Hebrew-saturated environment, while Boiberik and Kinderland did much the same thing for Yiddish. Camp Haswell promised that its happy campers “will learn all about model airplane building,” while the Jayson Camps made sure to point out that it solicited “boys and girls from the finest Jewish families.”

What rendered Morris Freedman’s visit unusual was that he was neither a counselor or a camper or even the parent of one. Rather, Freedman was a Ph.D.-wielding journalist, an associate editor at Commentary, who had gone to camp—to Ramah in Connecticut—to take a look around at what he and his colleagues characterized as “one of the livelier and most promising” phenomena of the postwar Jewish experience.

Adopting the posture and sensibility of an anthropologist studying tribal culture, Freedman—at once quizzical and curious, absorbed and removed—spent nearly a week at Ramah, where campers were encouraged to “Wake in Hebrew, Dress in Hebrew, Study in Hebrew, Play in Hebrew, Dance in Hebrew, Dream in Hebrew.” He hung out on the porch with the camp’s director, musing about this and that; observed goings-on in the dining room and by the lake; bore witness to ceremonial moments, among them Shabbat as well as Tisha B’Av; and interviewed campers, counselors, and parents about their experiences.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Congratulations, Mr. President. It took an extraordinary effort, but you finally managed to spark a serious global crisis. I know you don’t like to share credit, but don’t worry. The current mess in the Middle East centered around Iran is all..."

"We’re approaching the anniversary of one of the nastiest political battles it has been my misfortune to witness—the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault and his..."

"There are few one-offs in life on Earth—rarely can a single species boast a trait or ability that no other possesses. But human language is one such oddity. Our ability to use subtle combinations of sounds produced by our vocal cords to create..."

"He walked through the coffee shop door and scanned the crowd. A familiar smile bloomed as he recognized me, despite how my appearance had changed over the years. I’m bald and bearded now, and heavier. I wear an extra decade on my face, and I’m..."

"The poverty rate in the United States fell to 11.8 percent in 2018, according to data released last week by the Census Bureau — the lowest it’s been since 2001. But this estimate significantly understates the extent of economic deprivation in..."

"Streaming is the future of TV. But for now a big part of the streaming business revolves around old TV shows. Latest case in point: Netflix is paying a lot of money for the rights to show Seinfeld to its 150 million subscribers around the world..."

"On the eve of the second Israeli election of 2019, there is no shortage of apocalyptic rhetoric about the potential consequences of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election. From the New York Times' editorial column to The Forward’s..."

"Is there a backlash toward the technology industry in the culture? I tend to think so, having written about its various twists and turns most weekdays for the past couple years now. But sometimes an obsession with a beat can lead to myopia, and..."