Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

Camp Food

Earlier this week, we joined 10 or so other families in the Chader Ochel* on the kibbutz for a potluck communal dinner.  I got really excited when the invitation arrived in my inbox; for one, I understood the Hebrew flyer almost in its entirety without the assistance of my part-time translator (who also acts as my husband.) But also,  a communal dinner in the Chader Ochel reeked of summer camp, and this, my friends, is why I moved to a kibbutz.

When I think back to the most dramatic, intense, inspiring moments of my childhood, I’m transported back to camp. I split my adolescence between two overnight camps: Camp Wohelo, an all-girls camp in the Blue Ridge mountains of Pennsylvania; and when Wohelo closed, I joined Camp Wekeela, a co-ed camp in Maine. And perhaps it’s the intensity of once having been a part of those camp communities that has me continually seeking to replicate the experience.

I would come home from camp at the end of each summer and instead of hopping off the bus with utter joy at finally being reunited with my parents, I would weep in despair. I remember one summer my parents picked me up at the IKEA by the Plymouth Meeting Mall where the bus dropped us off, and we stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch before getting on the road to Cherry Hill. My parents tried to engage me: Asking me to share tales of my adventures or filling me in on the local gossip. But I just cried into my pan pizza, in between hiccups moaning, “I want to go back. I want to go back.”

The dinner in the Chader Ochel on Wednesday was only vaguely reminiscent of the camp dining hall. While there was plenty of noise and chaos, there were no twenty-year-old Scottish lads delivering big plates of steaming hot schnitzel to my table. Instead, I was doing the waitering, filling up my kids’ plates with homemade pizza and mac and cheese; while said kids ran around like wild maniacs. I have to admit, though, since running around like wild maniacs is a regular evening activity for my children, I’d rather it be in someone else’s noisy dining room than my own. 

I sat across the table from my new friend Anat, who arrived to Hannaton with her family only a few days before we did. Anat was explaining the traditional kibbutz movement to her 10-year-old daughter; particularly the part about the children living together in a house, only seeing their parents a few hours every day. Anat and I both shared with sparkles in our eyes that, as kids, we both thought the idea of living on a kibbutz was cool.

Anat’s daughter wasn’t sold on the idea. She thought that children would want to spend more time with their parents, and she might be right. There is an Israeli film (which I have not seen) called “The Children’s House and the Kibbutz” which supposedly emphasizes the “emotionally deficient childhood that [kibbutz members] experienced in the children’s house of their kibbutz.”

However, thanks to sleepaway camp and a library filled with young adult books set in boarding school, I’ve always had the impression that living with other children far away from your parents was the best way to live. In my mind, only in dormitory-style rooms or in the woods behind said dormitory style room did fun and exciting things happen.

And, perhaps, I still retain that notion today. Is it possible that my choice to live on a kibbutz is partly inspired by my unfulfilled dream of year-round summer camp?


There are a lot of similarities, as I can tell so far. Seeing and interacting with the same people day-to-day; moving from activity to activity in groups; retreating to the quiet solitute of your cabin when you need some down time.

Making friends on a kibbutz is camp style, too. I almost feel like the camper who arrives for the second four-week session super excited to become part of what looks like an awesome scene, but hesitant to integrate herself into the groups and cliques that already organically formed earlier in the summer. My kids, thrust into school and Gan without a choice, are getting over the shy hump a lot faster than their parents. But kids have a lot less relationship baggage to keep them from sharing of themselves authentically and without hesitation, don’t they? 

Have no fear. Just as it’s impossible for me to be late to a party no matter how hard I try, I know that I won’t be able to maintain this level of shyness for much longer. It’s not in my nature.

My nature is to play, to laugh, and to make others laugh: And sooner or later I will need to leave the safe confines of “Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit” to get a much-needed fix.


Chader Ochel = Dining Hall
Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit = I don’t speak Hebrew

2 thoughts on “Camp Food”

  1. I spent the last 25 years trying to recapture that old Camp feeling. I really believed that if I could just get a lot of people in the same room singing at the same time it could happen. I no longer pretend that it will ever be “the same” a…nd since I have let that particular bubble burst, I have been able to find new joy, friendship, and meaning in the experiences I am actually experiencing. And, there are plenty of times I simply “miss” camp (ie Summer days of freedom, sun, uncontrollable laughter, uncontrollable tears) – on those days I think about ways to bring those moments back in to my life because it usually means they have been absent… so I bring my dog to the dog park with my kids and we run around and laugh until we think we might pee in our pants and then go home and dance like maniacs to some Klezmer CD, build a tent in the middle of the living room and snuggle in and share stories about our lives. Then it is a while before i start noticing that empty space again that somehow I grew to believe that only camp could give me. One more thing about that… I received scholarships my whole life to attend camp (I didn;t know it at the time). I have continued to work at camp to give my kids those wonderful summers. It is likely we will not be able to go to camp this year – combination of circumstances and a lot due to finances. At first, the idea of them not getting a Summer at camp broke my heart. Then I remembered that what I want for them is to experience Freedom, Joy, Community, and Full Self Expression… So I keep asking myself and reminding myself that there are MANY ways to obtain those same experiences. I am grateful for all my years at camp but I am sorry I spent so long trying to recapture the essence and am relieved to finally see the forest through the trees… or the Chadar Ochel through the Tzrifim…


  2. I had to look up Tzrifim…but I so much value your insight and your sharing. “How Camp Defines You” would be another sociological study I’d be interested in reading if it exists. Or “All I Ever Really Needed to Know About Freedom, Joy, Community and Self Expression I Learned At Camp.” xoxo


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