Jewish summer camp can be a time of personal growth, intense friendships and Jewish exploration. It can also be a time for romance, and many couples in Atlanta have that story to tell.
Philip and Amy Rubin met at camp as counselors back when the Marcus JCC’s Camp Isidore Alterman was called Camp AJECOMCE. “Immediately when I met her, I literally felt I’m going to marry her or someone like her,” Philip said. “She thought I was a snob,” he added.
It was a different time back then, Philip said. The teenagers spent all day with each other in the “day camp pretending to be a sleepaway camp” outdoors surrounded by woods, and then would go out together at night. The atmosphere was friendly and flirty. “We even had a summer called ‘the summer of love,’” he said.
Amy said they ended up working as counselors in the same age group and were friends throughout the summer as part of a big group. “It was very social because it was set up like everyone was kind of around the same central area. So you saw everybody all the time,” she described the campgrounds. Amy said she met friends working there that she wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise, and this casual social environment extended beyond camp. “They became your summer everything. We would come early and stay late,” she said. “It was a great summer experience – not just a job, but an experience for sure.”
Philip described Amy as never having any drama, and even cooler than she was beautiful. “I was definitely the pursuer. I was definitely trying my best to get this girl to like me. I always thought she was beautiful inside and out,” Philip said. “I kept saying ‘we might as well make out and get this over with,’ and she’d look at me and laugh.”
By the end of the summer, they started dating. They dated long distance for five years and ended up getting married in 1996.
“And I would still want to marry her today. Glad it was her!” Philip said.
Anat Granath also met her husband, Brian, when she was working at Camp AJECOMCE in 1994. That first year Brian, who had a long background of working at the camp, was probably up at Camp Barney Medintz, Anat said. She met him through other people at camp while she was staying with her aunt and uncle. “He has such an amazing passion for camp, being a camper and counselor,” she said of her husband.
Anat had come that summer as a shlicha, an Israeli visitor who grows bonds between Israel and the diaspora community.
“It’s funny. The thing that hit me first was the first Shabbat at camp,” Anat said. “That was so beautiful for me to see. … It was my first experience with a diaspora Jewish community, and realizing, maybe we grew up in different places and speak different languages, but knowing we have that string of commonality, of Jewishness.”
Brian and Anat married in 1998. Though it took place in Jerusalem, about 50 people from Atlanta and other parts of the United States traveled to attend their wedding, including two of Brian’s very close camp friends. Now their own children go to Camp Barney, and the Granaths host shlichim from Barney and URJ Camp Coleman, which Anat describes as a “phenomenal” experience. “By 2000 we immediately started hosting shlichim and we’ve hosted every year since.”
Growing up, Ilana and Greg Schlam were both involved in Young Judaea, the youth movement affiliated with the camp. “He was older than me, so I only really knew him as one of those older guys who staffed conventions,” she said. Ilana went to a YMCA camp and didn’t become involved in Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, N.C., until her friends convinced her to work there in college.
The Schlams knew each other in college but didn’t have a relationship until they were working together at Camp Judaea. “It was only once we started working together in that camp environment, we realized we were meant to be,” Ilana said. She became the assistant director while he was working there year-round doing logistics. “That’s when we were really able to spend a lot of time together,” Ilana said.
She describes Jewish camp as an intense environment where you truly get to know people, which fosters more meaningful relationships. “Regardless of my husband, my closest friends are still camp friends,” she said. “I honestly think that it’s a Jewish camp thing. For whatever reason I just feel like it was an environment where people really wanted to make those deep connections, … you delve a lot more into people’s personalities and opinions than you would in other places.”
The Schlams are part of a big Camp Judaea friend group that includes several people that worked together around the same time. Though she no longer works there, her daughter is going to Camp Judaea for the first time this summer as a camper, and Ilana is still a Jewish camp professional, now working at the MJCCA camps. “I’m just a huge proponent of Jewish camping. I really think it’s one of the more meaningful things you can do in your life.”
Another Camp Judaea couple, Lori and Michael Zeligman actually met when she was a camper and he was a staff member. When they met, she was around 15 and he was 18. At first they became friends, then reconnected years later when she was in her late 20s. “It made it so easy and natural because we’d been friends for so long through the camp system. Camp changed my life, it just made it so much stronger for us that we both loved the same place,” Lori said.
Both Lori and Michael worked at camp together for many years. She now works at Camp Judaea in a professional capacity as assistant director. “It’s fun for Michael and I and what makes my career a lot easier is Michael gets it. He knows camp; he loves camp,” she said. “Luckily he’s my biggest supporter.”
They also shared that same group of camp friends, which made it even easier for them to date and get married.
“What I try to tell people is that when you walk into a room and you see another person who went to the same camp as you, there’s an instant connection. At camp, it’s an emotional investment,” she said. “When there’s romantic feeling and involvement there, it just makes it more intense.”