Most of the pieces celebrate the fun that comes with long, unstructured days, and the bespoke activities and entertainment that kids concoct in the absence of firm schedules
Since the summer began, we’ve been running a “Savor that Summer” series in the Mix section of the magazine, where writers take turns sharing their summer memories. Rachel Bachrach, the editor who coordinated this series, has worked hard to bring you a mix of styles, locations, and experiences, with that magic thread of nostalgia weaving the whole project together.
You may have noticed something interesting: most of the pieces celebrate the fun that comes with long, unstructured days, and the bespoke activities and entertainment that kids concoct in the absence of firm schedules.
My summer memories do include that unstructured element — blueberry picking and salamander hunts and Stratego games on bungalow porches — but in hindsight, what I appreciate most about those months in Bayit V’Gan bungalows is the very professional, invested, and structured day camp.
Most of my years at Bayit V’Gan (BVG for short), the day camp was run by Rabbi Binyamin Schubert, and it began each morning with clockwork efficiency with a “modeh ani” serenade over the PA system, followed by a hearty “good morning…to a bright, beautiful, sunshiny Bayit V’Gan day.”
The day then unrolled to a predictable rhythm of calisthenics, davening, and tightly scheduled activities, with each bunk directed to a specific spot.
Every day, there was a shiur. I’m not sure if it was the unusual setting or the masterful delivery, but I still associate Tishah B’Av with the shiurim of Rebbetzin Yehudis Karelitz, who retold the accounts of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Abba Sikra, and Aspasyanus with thrilling drama and detail as we sat on the benches and floor of the colony’s gazebos.
Swimming in the colony’s pool, under the direction of Mrs. Fraidy Jankelewitz and her various assistants over the years, was the closest most of us would get to boot camp. Just getting into the pool grounds required that we recite a rhyming ditty following by a precise buddy call, and woe to the girl who couldn’t find her buddy when the whistle shrieked during free swim. Under Mrs. Jankelewitz’s expert fusion of firm commands and gentle coaxing, we all became proficient swimmers and divers.
The BVG day camp boasted official sports leagues for the boys and a yearly performance for the girls (some years the boys even put on their own performances too!), with mothers volunteering for the costume, makeup, and hairstyling crews. (My mother was the volunteer orchestra at her trusty keyboard.)
Shabbos afternoon had its own programming, beginning with a choir or play on the little stage (these days I feel compassion for the mothers who had to rush down the hill mid-Shabbos nap, rubbing the sleep from their eyes as they cheered on their little performers).
Every Friday afternoon, Rabbi Schubert would conduct a raffle for the entire camp with great pomp and theatrics. We all scrutinized our tickets carefully as he enunciated the chosen numbers with steadily increasing volume, and then the winners would be invited to choose a prize from the prize closet before heading home to prepare for Shabbos.
Campfires were official events, with campers spending at least a week foraging the surrounding woods for the perfect campfire stick (when you peeled back the outer layer of the wood, it had to be a springy light green underneath).
And rainy days meant everyone crowding into the shul, where tables were turned on their sides to create goals for a rousing indoor hockey game (favorite names included Team Cholent, Kugel, and Kishka).
Maybe the kids in other colonies enjoyed hour after hour of “figure it out yourself,” but for us BVG campers, the summer’s magic didn’t stem exclusively — or even mainly — from aimless wandering or spontaneous ball games. It came from a structure that melded fun with purpose, and excitement with firm expectations.
And while I’m no chinuch expert, I can attest that it worked. I don’t know any BVG veteran who doesn’t get starry-eyed remembering our summers trekking from the day camp house to the gazebo to the pool to the paddleball court to the shul, in keeping with our daily list of activities, times, and locations. We knew that list, and the firm camp structure, formed the surest path to a summer of boundless fun.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 973)
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