| Jr. Feature |

The 2020 COVID-19 Summer

Some of our readers attended camp; others stayed home or devised creative solutions to the Socially Distanced Summer Challenge


It’s been a summer like no other. Some camps didn’t open; others did, but with major changes. Some of our readers attended camp; others stayed home the entire summer or devised creative solutions to the Socially Distanced Summer Challenge.

To get the scoop on this year’s summer, Jr. touched base with people who experienced their vacations quite differently: In a sleepaway camp, in a community day camp, at home with family, or in their own “DIY camp.” Hop on board as we chug down the slightly bumpy and crazy, yet wonderfully fun-filled memory lane of Summer 2020 with our camp spokespeople!

Mrs. Rivky Gleiberman is the director of Camp Raninu, a girls’ sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania. Under the leadership of founders Rabbi and Mrs. Tully Klein, the camp worked hard to open this year — and everyone was thrilled when they succeeded!

Mrs. Dassey Zweig is the coordinator of CCC KidZ, Camp Chofetz Chaim of Baltimore’s preschool division. With Rabbi Hillel Hexter and Rabbi Menachem Zehnwirth at the camp’s helm, the team managed to open with flying colors (literally)!

Chana Sara Fishkind is 11 years old and loves all things creative. This summer, when her family made the choice to keep their children home due to coronavirus, Chana Sara became director of her own backyard camp… for her seven-year-old sister. Not what she expected, but 100 percent incredible!

Mrs. Dena Hertz is the mother of a seventh-grade daughter who, together with six of her classmates, cooked up a unique “DIY Camp” in Brooklyn. Big plans dashed, they collaborated to create a summer of good old homespun fun!


So… what was it like getting started?

Mrs. G.: Thankfully, the campgrounds are located in Pennsylvania, so we didn’t have to move like other sleepaway camps. Still, though, we had lots to adjust. Our first two weeks were Social Distancing 101. Each bunk quarantined as a group, so all the others could continue unaffected if one bunk experienced an issue. We spread out in the dining room, staggered mealtimes, and did away with busing to camp. The parents themselves dropped off the girls, but even they couldn’t enter the grounds. We assembled cute bags for each family with water and food, along with directions to the nearest gas station so people could stop off there instead.

Does it sound like a letdown? It wasn’t! Since we had to arrange separate arrival times, each girl got a personalized welcome to camp, plus a ride to her bunkhouse. That’s something really nice that we can’t typically offer!

Mrs. Z.: In all the back-and-forth, from rabbanim to doctors and back again, one thing was certain for me: Kids come to camp to loosen up. With the kind of year everyone’s had, I felt it crucial to give them that. If restrictions were going to be too tight (for instance, if the four-year-olds would have to mask up all day), that was a no-opener to me. With pure Yad Hashem, everything pulled together and we got an incredible staff on very short notice. They provide the two most essential ingredients for camp this year: love and safety!


Luckily, the final decision was not in my hands. Rabbi Hexter and Rabbi Zehnwirth, our directors, put endless thought and care into every major choice — and it was clear how important our campers’ safety and happiness are to them.

At arrival, campers submitted a short questionnaire ensuring that they were symptom-free and hadn’t had recent exposure to COVID-19. A staff member took each boy’s temperature and sprayed their hands with sanitizer. We made sure to talk about regular things while we did it, so it shouldn’t make the boys feel stressed or worried; they don’t need more of that than they already have!

C.S.F.: As soon as I found out we were doing this, I began preparing. I made up a theme song to “Feel the Magic in the Air” from Nachas (that was a really fun part for me, since I’ve always loved singing). I chose the theme, “I See the Light in the Darkness,” which my mother said was very appropriate.

Mrs. H.: For most of these girls, their summer plans had included destinations like Eretz Yisrael, sleepaway camp, or similar. When those plans fell through, my daughter and her friends realized they could still have fun, just not the way they’d originally intended.

The girls decided to do it “round-robin” style: Each day, the camp took up residence in a different girl’s home. On the day a girl hosted, she became the planner. I loved seeing the inclusiveness as they made the group; there was no “clique” business whatsoever. They called up anyone in their class they knew was home for the summer and invited them to join. Although they’d been classmates, not all the girls were necessarily close friends — but now they love spending time together!

Can you share some of your best memories from this summer with our readers?

C.S.F.: The best, I think, was when I made DIY Ice Cream Day… and then we ended up getting ice cream every day for a week straight! Another was swimming: My mother bought a huge, aboveground pool for us. We also did a lot of arts and crafts. Maybe my best was the blanket, which we both really enjoyed making. Since some of my friends are bored, I also got a few pen pals, which is exciting, because who doesn’t like getting letters?!

Mrs. H: Hard to pick! With so many amazing memories, the girls are putting together a calendar with pictures from their summer, so they can all look back at it throughout the year. One great part of this “camp” was cookie decorating. They hired a professional baker to come teach them how to decorate cookies. They not only made some stunning cookies, but they really learned the skills and are doing it for pay now. The girls also rented a pool twice a week to get in some “regular” summer fun.

Between the overnight they made in one girl’s house, the beach trip that one mother took them on, the tie-dye projects, and the backyard water fights, this summer is definitely one they will all remember.

Mrs. G.: Camp was full of surprises this year! We came up with some pretty creative competition ideas, and one that stands out was our Play Wars contest. Different bunks received the same script, but you’d be surprised how different the same play can come out when it’s preformed by different people. Each bunk put in their own personalities, their own twists and ideas, and the results had us all laughing and enjoying on the edge of our seats. Renting Kangoo Jumps is another great memory; between those and the moonwalks and waterslides, camp was so exhilarating that we hardly missed the trips this year!

Mrs. Z.: Our “in-house trips” were a major highlight. A full-scale petting zoo with pony rides visited us one day. Another time, we had Bricks4Kids — a Lego presentation where each boy received a kit to construct his own remote-controlled car. For our “grand trip,” we began the evening before with a socially distanced concert by Joey Newcomb, who had the entire camp jumping and dancing to the music. The following day, an on-site amusement park with a ride, a massive waterslide, an inflatable obstacle course and more brought the campus hopping to life. The afternoon followed up that excitement with a pizza lunch, a carnival, and great prizes. All of these “trips” enabled the kids to feel like, “this is regular.”

Do you feel that you and your campers gained from this experience, even with all the challenges? If so, how?

Mrs. H: This summer was a real eye-opener. We think we need to rent planes or a whole zoo to entertain everybody — but here we had fun with dollar-store-type activities! The girls planned and pulled off almost all of this by themselves, since we mothers mostly were not around during the camp hours. By rising to the occasion, even though this wasn’t what they’d envisioned for their summer, they walked away with something really valuable.

CSF: I did a lot of teaching my sister this summer: I made handwriting pages for her, we read Chumash together, or I’d give her three Hebrew words and she’d make a story out of them. So I think I gained from learning how my sister learns. For me, personally, studying and learning is super hard, but teaching is loads of fun. So I helped both her and myself!

Mrs. Z.: There certainly were challenges — like losing that full-camp togetherness ruach camps normally thrive on. But I was amazed and grateful to see how supportive parents were. Everyone was so appreciative; they completely went above and beyond to help us keep their kids and the community safe.

I believe this summer — this year, in fact — will be something the kids of this generation will remember their whole lives: Where they spent their summer, who their teacher was during school, and what they did. Just like the older generation in America will always remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the millennial generation will always recall the day of 9/11, the kids of 2020 will never forget this.

Mrs. G: Absolutely! We learned to appreciate the smaller things in life, like being with each other. We were so happy to spend the summer together that we all grew in our ability to look at the positive in others. And if something didn’t work out as planned? Well… when we looked at where we were standing, we remembered: Everything is working out.

Sounds like quite a summer — one of fun, growth, and lots of creative excitement, even with all the obstacles. We hope all our readers enjoyed theirs as well! As we gear up for a new school year, whatever that may hold, let’s store away these happy memories so we can pull them out for a dose of sunshine and joy whenever we need it!


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 824)

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