Georgia’s three Jewish sleepaway camps, Camp Barney Medintz, URJ Camp Coleman and Camp Ramah Darom, each have their own history, and with that comes campers whose parents have also attended the camps. The AJT spoke to parents from each about their camp experience, why they sent their kids to the same camp as they attended and what’s changed since then.
Ramah is the youngest of the three camps at just 24 years old, and director Geoff Menkowitz noted that their initial second-generation campers are just now hitting camp-going age.
Rachel Miller attended Camp Ramah in New England, in Massachusetts, and later worked at Ramah Darom, where she met her husband when they were both counselors. Their daughter Dana attended Ramah Darom for the first time last summer.
“She went for two weeks for their taste of camp program, and this summer she’s planning to go for the full four weeks,” Miller said. “She had a great experience. She peripherally knew a few girls who were going to be in her cabin, but game back with a bunch of great friends and didn’t want to leave after those two weeks.”
Josh D’Agostino spent three years at Barney as a camper and five as a staff member, and now his three daughters, 14, 12 and 10, are all campers there as well.
“I knew how much fun I had there and how much I connected with those people. And we live in Atlanta, but they go to public school, so there’s rarely a time outside of synagogue or services that they are surrounded by people who are all Jewish,” he said.
Jackie Dalton spent eight summers at Coleman both as a camper and a counselor while growing up in South Florida.
“My sisters and I were really the only Jewish kids in our school until we got to high school, which sounds crazy when talking about South Florida,” she said. “Camp was really a place that really gave me a Jewish identity and gave me a sense of who I am to this day.”
Now Dalton’s two children, Gabbi and Spencer, are both Coleman campers.
“My husband converted when we got married, so camp was kind of foreign to him, but he would ask me, ‘What if they don’t like camp?’” she said. “I would say, ‘It’s not an option; they’re going to love it,’ and thankfully they do.”
Much like D’Agostino’s, Dalton’s kids attend public school, and she believes that some of the magic of her own experience [at camp] is still present as a result.
“There are not a ton of Jewish kids there day in and day out, but we are members of The Temple and they see camp friends through Sunday school and Hebrew school, but camp is such a different place,” she said. “It’s not even really a thought that you’re Jewish when you’re there; you’re just living it every day and it becomes a part of you.”
All three were asked whether they ever looked at other camp options when considering where to send their kids, but their answers were eerily similar.
“It was always Coleman, if I’m honest,” Dalton said. “I never looked at other places.”
D’Agostino said, “It was all Barney the whole time.”
And Miller said, “Yeah, we didn’t look at any other camps. It has always been an important part of my life, … so we didn’t look anywhere else.”
As for what’s changed since they were campers, Miller explained that technology has enabled communication with the outside world in new ways.
“The quickness of email and being able to know within a day what’s going on with your kids. We definitely didn’t have that as campers, and as a staff member we were using faxes,” she said. “It’s interesting from my perspective as a parent — you’re not waiting by your mailbox, instead you’re refreshing your email. I don’t know that it feels any different to the kids.”
D’Agostino noted that the biggest change he sees at Barney is in the size.
“There are many more kids going each session than even 10, 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “So there are more and bigger facilities, more cabins, but also some of the old facilities are still there, and the layout of the camp is still the same.”
With that demand, he also noted more diverse activities to provide options to a larger group, but on the whole, all three interviewed said that the most important aspects of camp, the environment and friendships, were unchanged, and memories created there could last forever.
“I spent 10 months there over eight years, but rarely does a day pass by that I don’t think about it.”