Growing up, Ann Gorton remembers her mother, Sara Jane Brown telling her, “When you are 8 years old, you are going to Camp Louise.” Sure enough, at the age of 8, she was dropped off at Camp Louise, the all-girls sleepaway camp in Cascade, Md., that her mother and grandmother attended. “And that was that,” Gorton said.
Now a mother of two, she sends her sons to Camp Airy, Louise’s brother camp to continue the tradition. Her family is just one of many in the area, and across the country, who have attended the same summer camp for many generations and are planning on continuing the practice in the future.
Over the years, the camp has added a lot of new activities — zip-lining, parkour, skating and go-karts —things that her sons enjoy at camp that she didn’t have. “My view is that you have to keep up with the time,” the 46-year-old teacher said. “You can add all this new stuff, but the spirit of the camp is still the same.”
To her there is a particular kind of magic to the camp that’s difficult to put into words. She wanted to share that with her children.
There are some traditions that only members who went to the same camp share. For Ann and her mother, there’s a statue at Camp Louise that the campers dress up in shirts, hats and other clothes; the statue has gone through many names. In Ann’s time, it was Mary Stone, and in her mother’s it was Sadie Rottencrotch.
She’s not sure what it’s called now.
Then there are the more traditional traditions that both Airy and Louise take part in: Havdalah services, the dance, folk dancing and singing. Groton’s 13-year-old son, Max, loves the religious services, particularly the final Havdalah service of the session, where the counselors-in-training stand in the center and the camps stand in rings around them with the oldest in the center and the youngest at the back.
“The old camp traditions are really cool,” he said.
When he gets older and has kids, Max plans to send them to Camp Airy and Louise. For the family, the world of camp is very different from the world outside of it, a statement that is echoed by other multi-generational camp families, whether the parents are the first or second or third generation in their
families to go to camp.
“I was fated to have a long stated involvement with that wonderful institution,” Dan Mendelson said about Camp Ramah, the network of camps affiliated with the Conservative movement. His parents worked at the camp located in the area where they met. He and his siblings all attended the camp and sent their kids there. His older brother, who lives in California, was even able to send his kid there and bending the rules due to their family’s history with the camp.
“For me, [being] on the waterfront there and swimming in the lake is something we all love doing as a family,” said Mendelson. “It reminds you that you’re alive and it’s a great experience. … It is an immersive Jewish experience that
“Camp is. … fun to have that in common with someone,” he added. “Our kids are walking the same path that their grandparents did on Shabbat when they went after services to lunch. There’s a level of familiarity and comfort there that they share.”
Then there are the parents who were the first of their families to go to camp, and want to give their children the
Pnina Laric’s parents, for instance, didn’t go to Camp Moshava, colloquially known as Camp Mosh, but her mother-in-law and father-in-law did; she even met her husband, Eli Glaser, there when she was 11 during her first summer. His mother was working at the camp at the time.
“My first memory of my mother-in-law,” she said, “is of her telling me I couldn’t call my mother. … But that’s all water under the bridge now.”
Laric and her future husband began dating after college, and knew early on that they were going to send their children to Camp Moshava.
For her, the best tradition was how they celebrated Shabbat.
“We had a special meal each week,” she said. “There was a lot of singing of Shabbat songs. … One age group each week would perform a play, dance, modern dance and a song. They were all original. We choreographed pour own dances and play after which we did two or three hours of Israeli folk dancing.”
She also discussed how the camp has a huge history of fostering comedic talent. Jewish actor Seth Rogen attended Habonim Dror Camp Miriam, which is run by the same organization as Mosh in British Columbia; Sacha Baron Cohen went to another location, Habonim Dror in the United Kingdom.
For Laric, the Jewish aspect of Camp Moshe was also a huge draw; the camp is part of a Habonim Dror movement, which her parents were a part of.
“I’m sure there a lot of good Jewish summer camps, [but] Moshe is really special because of the youth movement,” said Laric. “There’s a lot of informal learning going on about Israel and social justice in creative ways.”
Her son, Zev, participates in many of the same activities she did. “He loves it. I’m really impressed with how empowered he feels coming back from camp,” his mother said.
Before going to camp, Zev didn’t really like dancing, but now that he has gone to camp and participated in folk dancing he’s become really good at it.
Wherever they went to camp, or wherever they send their children to camp, people seem to acknowledge the special bond campers have to the experience, as well as to each other.
“We see these friendships form [among campers], because they’re living together, and they have a really deep sense of comfort with the other kids,” said Mendelson. “Some of these friendships are really their closest and deepest friends because of the experiences they had together.”