Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah
OpinionShaindle's Shpiel

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

All I ever needed to know I did not learn in Kindergarten. I learned it a summer camp.

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler spreads her energy and humor as a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Fact: I started attending summer overnight camp when I was very young. I was 6 or 7 years old. I loved being a camper. I loved being my independent self. My parents loved summer camp too, but for very different reasons.

Dear Muddah and Faddah: Remember when…

All I ever needed to know about anything and everything I did not learn in kindergarten. Camp Kinderwelt, in Highland Mills, N.Y., was my classroom. New insights into the beauty of Shabbat, teamwork, jump rope, shaving my legs, baton twirling, hiking, tweezing my eyebrows, nature, music, friendship. As I got older, I learned other important lifelong and life-saving skills – skills most kids in the neighborhood learned on the streets.

Color War, a week-long Olympic event, when campers and counselors were assigned to the blue or white team, always ‘broke’ second session. We were never told in advance when the event would ‘break.’ The anticipation and excitement were palpable throughout camp for days.

We would write – actual hand writing, not texting or emailing – letters to or call our camp friends throughout the fall and winter, discussing the highs and lows of color war.

In the spring, our conversations turned to who was returning, who our bunk mates might be, which counselors we wanted. Our conversations also focused on girls we prayed would not be in our cabins or with any luck, would not be returning. We could never be sure which summer friends suddenly betrayed us by befriending our enemies. Usually boys.

My entire group of 13 CITs (counselors in training) would be thrown out of camp.
I could not wait to be old enough to become a CIT, the step before junior and ultimately, senior counselor. I was getting closer to my life’s dream: becoming a senior counselor at my beloved camp. Keep in mind my life was only 14 years old.
Finally, I was ready to be a CIT. During the second session of camp, an issue we believed vital, blocked my road to success at Camp Kinderwelt, and led me to the boy I would marry.

The ultimate camp “get” was finding out in advance which team we were on during “color war games,” the color war theme, and who received the coveted positions of captains and lieutenants. We determined this would be our year for the “get.” Our challenge: steal the color war booklets locked in the camp director’s office. We devised a foolproof break-in and escape plan. We invited the CIT boys to join the “get.”

Big fat mistake.

Our plan: The boys sneak out at midnight and surround the perimeter of the director’s office. Certain the coast was clear, one of the boys would be dispatched to the girls’ cabin to give the go signal. While the boys would continue to act as lookouts, we would jimmy a window open and get inside the office. Two of us would climb through the window, grab the booklets, quickly climb back out, hand one booklet to the boys and keep one for us girls. A perfect plan, had the boys not been your typical 15-year-olds.

Aaron arrives on our cabin porch breathless. He just sprinted across the open field, which separates the boys’ and girls’ cabins. We hear him say “GO” in his version of a stage whisper so as not to wake our sleeping counselors.

If only they had been sleeping.

The sound of 26 barefoot, 15-year-old, pony-tailed Jewish girls dressed in all black, charging across the open field, bent at the waist, thinking this position would make it more difficult to spot us, would get a trillion hits on YouTube, had YouTube been created.

My friend, Ziva, and I climbed on the backs of two strong boys, opened the window and climbed in to the holy of all holy places – the camp director’s office. Suddenly, the lights magically switched on, and behold, the director, assistant director, program directors, unit heads, and our beloved counselors greeted us with a resounding cheer.

The next morning, we were on our way home.

A life lesson: 15-year-old boys think it’s funny to rat on 15-year-old girls.

My 17th summer I secured a counselor position at Camp Kinder Ring, an overnight camp in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. With a wink from the universe, my life’s journey would take a left turn, literally. A sharp left off the highway, onto the dirt road, led to camp.

On the day the buses left New York and arrived in camp, hot and hungry from our three-hour trek up the mountains, we headed for the dining hall, and then to the waterfront for a lake swim.I laser-focused on the waterfront director – my future husband. Swoon, swoon.

I began to formulate my plan, which, unbeknownst to him, would soon become his plan. My instincts shouted he is my bashert and we would one day be “the one” for each other.

Camp was my defining moment; I am who I am because of Jewish summer camp. Securing the camp director’s position at camp AJECOMCE/Alterman for 18 years, another defining moment.

Thank you Muddah and Faddah, for knowing.

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