Wish I Was at Camp Chi
Guest Blogger Rachel Gold is a committed Camp Chi alumna. She is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in community and nonprofit leadership with a certificate in education.
I counted down the days until camp started for 8 summers. I lived for the annual trips to Target and Bed Bath and Beyond to get all the necessities (okay, maybe not always necessities), and for sitting on my living room floor labeling everything with sharpie (to this day, all my socks say my name on them). I anxiously awaited the morning that it was finally time to go to the bus: arrive at Glenbrook North High school at 10am, leave at 10:30, my backpack stuffed to the brim with everything I didn’t send in my duffle bags. Pulling into camp, that silent turn, was the most anticipated moment of my life for so many years, and the pure joy that hit me every single time I stepped off the Lamer’s bus is a feeling I will not soon forget. All of this was a summer routine for me–until now.
It is a momentous occasion when a child spends his or her first summer “away from home,” whether that be traveling, at camp, etc. While I am quite literally living at home this summer (shout out to you, Mom and Dad), I argue that this is actually my first summer away from home; my first summer away from Camp Chi. Let me tell you: I knew I would miss camp, but I didn’t know it would feel like this.
“This one time at camp…” “It’s a camp thing…” “my best friend from camp…” Ask my family and friends at home and at school – I say these phrases multiple times. Daily. I can tell all the stories I have from my eight summers at JCC’s Camp Chi, but no matter how good my storytelling skills may be, stories will never do this place justice – one of those “you had to be there” things.
If you knew me during my first summer at camp when I was 12, these first three paragraphs must sound ironic, as I cried every single day my first two weeks at camp. Yeah, I was that camper. I fell victim to homesickness – real hard. I wrote letters every day and was also the kid who got 17 pieces of mail daily. I had so much fun every single day, but at night time, I wanted to leave. I wanted to call my mom so badly, but despite my relentless pleas, I remained phone-less for four weeks.
Spoiler alert: the homesickness subsided and I ended up at camp every single summer after that. Why? The people. The people at Chi make this place truly magical, and give me a feeling I’ve yet to find elsewhere.
It was my cousin Liza, who was a counselor my first summer, leaving her own campers and eating breakfast with me outside the dining hall, trying to convince me that I could survive four weeks. It was Irwin, the camp chef, who knew I was allergic to dairy (also that camper), and knew my favorite food was mashed potatoes, and made a batch specially for me one Shabbat (I shared it with my entire cabin and we didn’t finish them-that’s how much he made). It was Ron Levin, camp’s director at the time, going to Walmart personally to get Silk light chocolate milk because I wouldn’t drink any other kind (man, I guess I was that camper, too). It was meeting Arin Kerstein my first summer, a Camp Chi veteran, and not only becoming best friends at camp, but best friends to this day. It was, to my disbelief, learning that the song is called Send Me On My Way, not Simmy and the Wave. It was Karen Klass and Gilletty who told me that I needed to come back for my SIT summer. It was meeting Maddy VDK in Noar and then Terf and Hannah Altman during SIT summer, who all quickly became my best friends and with whom I share some of my favorite memories – most of which involve me laughing until I cry. It was being placed as an assistant with Keshet during my SIT summer, an organization that provides opportunities to people with diverse abilities, and meeting my camper, Kelly. This four-day placement confirmed my passion for working with kids and encouraged me to apply to work for Keshet three summers later. It was Sarah Cunningham who stayed up all night with the 34 girls in my SIT class when we needed her most. It was these people, and far too many more to name, that had me hooked on Chi summer after summer as a camper, counselor, Keshet counselor, and SIT staff. And now, all I want to do is go back.
This summer I am interning for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the fundraising and event planning department. I fell in love with St. Jude and its mission as my sorority’s philanthropy chair. I want to work for St. Jude and, one day, be its CEO. Needless to say, when I was offered the internship, I was ecstatic. However, I knew it meant my time at Chi was coming to an end. While my summer routine was about to change, I didn’t think it was a big deal because I was going to do something I loved. I was wrong.
There is a feeling I have about camp, one that many of my friends share, that physically and emotionally pulls me there. I went to the departure bus stop this summer because I could not bear to stay away. Parents came up to me asking how long I’d be at camp for, and it hurt my heart to explain to them that I was just there to help, and wasn’t actually getting on the bus. I love my internship and remain passionate about St. Jude, but there is a feeling that a friend described perfectly: during your first summer away from camp, you feel out of place. I have never spent a summer inside staring at a computer. I traded in my iconic socks and sandals look for business-casual attire every day. And, every time I hear a camp song, whether I’m out with my friends, in the middle of the grocery store, or just in the car, my mind goes straight to the Noar Deck for song session. People don’t get that Wonderwall has a whole different meaning for me.
That cliché saying, “you don’t know what you have until its gone,” could not be more real. Camp Chi will never be gone from my life, but it will also never be the same. I won’t have my own cabin or campers again, or live in a counselor room separated by a mere sheet. But, I will carry the best friends and endless laughs, cries, and every emotion in between, with me wherever I go. People might not get my camp stories, but my story telling won’t be stopping anytime soon. To all of you campers and counselors who are still so beyond lucky to be at camp, stay there as long as you can. All my friends, or anyone who has since stopped going to camp, you can agree: the real world does have its good parts, but it won’t teach you the lessons you learn alongside your best friends at overnight camp; it’s not Camp Chi.