The Time I Fell in Love at Camp


Camp Ramah reunion in Los Angeles

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

It is impossible to pinpoint the moment I fell in love.  It was over one month, the most fantastic, emotional, spiritual month of my life. With who you might ask?   Well, I’m not in love with a person.  I’m in love with a community.  A movement that offers me more happiness and love than any person could offer.   I’m love with something amazing.  Something powerful.  I’m in love with my summer camp.

When I was eight, the summer after 3rd grade, my parents dropped me off at the airport.  I boarded the plane with other children, all eager and anxious as the plane took off, flying over central California and landing in the Burbank airport.

We quickly departed the plane and went to grab our luggage in baggage claim.  Adults shouted instructions, but us “little ones” looked to the big kids for direction.  From there, we waited in the sun until three big buses came to pick us up.  An hour and a half later, we entered Ojai, a small city in Ventura County, and the place of our destination.

We unloaded the bus and immediately were charged by a swarm of 17 year olds in white t-shirts.  I was overwhelmed by the shouting, quickly grabbing my only friend’s hand as a sign of reassurance.

Two weeks later, I again boarded a bus.  This time, covered in tears, but sobbing simultaneously with an entire community.  In two weeks, I had become devoted to Camp Ramah.  Linked to a place that I had only first seen fourteen days before, and connected to people whom, prior to camp, had been strangers.

As I grew older, the sessions grew longer, and the incredible experiences of camp grew even more magical.

My camp allowed me to develop and create a support network outside of the tricky social rules of school.  It gave me a place to develop myself.  My intellect was tested on social understanding rather than standardized tests and pop quizzes.  My social status was measured by my leadership abilities, and compassion for others, with no interference by the constant pressures one is so often exposed to growing up.

I would return from camp every summer and feel different.  I would look at my school friends, and feel empty.  Our relationship lacked the connection I had with camp.  I longed for the camp lifestyle, and anything else seemed superficial and out of place.

Camp became less of a camp and more of a cherished place of refuge. At camp, I didn’t miss my family; because my family was right there with me. Camp has shaped my character; it has shaped my outlook on friendships, and my life.

Camp introduced me to strangers who quickly evolved into my best friends.  These camp friendships are indescribable, because no words can fully encompass the camp formed connections.  Nothing can be compared to them, and no beautiful words I can say will do these kids justice.  Because of them, I was able to fully immerse myself in a community that was built on the foundation of mutual trust and respect.  They shaped me just as much as camp did and for that I am so grateful.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend in Los Angeles.  There, I met up with my best friends.  Campers from San Diego, Tucson, and of course, Lafayette came together for a reunion and celebration.  The weekend was nothing short of incredible, and when it ended, I was so familiarly overcome with tears and sadness.

It has been eight years since I started camp, and I am still that little overwhelmed girl.  However, that chaos, that overwhelming energy of Camp Ramah, has become my refuge.

I could attribute camp for the many things I learned over my summers: confidence, empathy, independence, all of which were achievable with the support of those who surrounded me.

Social dynamics are much different at camp, but it is much easier to fit in and be accepted when you are able to create deep connections with your peers.  You are told to make friends, but unlike school, at camp you are encouraged to stand out, your individuality is appreciated.  You express yourself in a safe environment; and everyone thrives off the success and joy of others.

This summer was the first that I did not return to camp.  It was not by choice.  I was fortunate enough to go on a program affiliated with my camp to Israel.  The experience was life changing, but I still longed for the camp experience.

I’ve identified with camp as more of a home than my actual one.  When it comes time for the decision of me being a counselor, I have zero hesitation.  And if I am turned down, I will be heartbroken.  Camp is my first love.  And just like a tearful heartbreak, the experiences, friendships, and memories that I got from the relationship will stay with me forever.

Camp is where I learned to appreciate others, and learned to love myself.  Nothing I say can encompass how truly incredible camp is.  It’s the experience of camp, the feelings that camp gives me, that make me return summer after summer.

I am really no different from my camp loving former self.  I still countdown the days till I go back to Ojai.  I still smile when a camp song plays, or I hear a camp joke.  I am still overwhelmed, though no longer by my summertime experiences.  The difference now is that when I need reassurance, I have a hundred hands to hold; and I know those hands will never waver, no matter how far away they might be.