Article from Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina newsletter, Fall 2013, Volume XVIII, Number 2, page 16/17
By Josh Lieb
I spent almost every summer after the age of eight at camp, but only the first two at Jewish camps-unless you count the time me and Eric Jablon, Brian Milman, Kyle Reeves, and others took over a cabin at a YMCA camp in Spartanburg.
I was a member of the Ofarim and Sofim-the first and second year campers-at Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, North Carolina. This would have been in the summers of 1983 and 1984, thereabout. CJ is an old-fashioned, hard-core, religious, Zionist camp, overseen by Hadassah. We sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “HaTikvah” every morning at the flagpoles. My sister, Dana, had already been attending for several years when I first started. I think she might have gone to Tel Yehudah afterwards-the camp that CJ kids “graduated” to-which was up in New Jersey somewhere. I know my cousin Rachel Cohen, granddaughter of Carl and Helen Proser of Greenville (they owned Cancellation Shoe Mart), went to TY after CJ. There’s now a “Denny Cohen Memorial Darkroom,” named after Rachel’s photographer father, at CJ.
Camp Judaea was fat with campers when I attended. I know because, while I was there, they had to add a new “class” of campers, the Chalutzim, whose age was between the Sofim and the older Keshers. The campers came mostly from the Southeast. The Tennessee kids seemed a lot like us South Carolinians. The Puerto Ricans seemed more sophisticated (Josh Gold taught me how to swear in Spanish). The Floridians were softer and more spoiled than those of us from South Carolina, except for Marc Braun, whose father, I was told, owned a nightclub. Marc was tough and loud. I was always a little scared of him, until one day I found out it was important to him that I like him. He was a nice kid. After that I wasn’t scared of Marc Braun.
There was a fat kid from Florida who was pretty intolerable-he’ll go nameless. Mouthy, spoiled. Even worse was the skinny kid from Florida who did nothing but whine. Again, I won’t name him (but I do remember), because he probably grew out of it. I don’t remember any of the Florida kids having southern accents.
One year there was even this weird, absurdly skinny kid from New York. Big mop of black hair, big nose. He looked like a Jewish scarecrow. He had one of those Queens accents you don’t hear anymore. He used the word “freakin'” as an adjective, probably five times a sentence. We were all pretty scandalized.
Our big joke was to ask the counselor if he wanted a lollipop, then pull down our pants and show him our putzim. This is exactly the kind of memory that should be preserved by the historical society. Honestly, I can’t imagine a job more thankless than trying to wrangle a cabin full of smart-ass Jewish eight-year-old boys. We were horrible, horrible people. We were exactly why Jewish parents sent their boys to camp.
CJ kept a strictly kosher kitchen. They tried to keep kids from smuggling in candy from outside, but my mom was on the board (she was a macher in Hadassah), so I pretty much got away with murder. The camp was (and I’m sure still is) Shomer Shabbes. The cabins were dark all Shabbat, with the light left on in the bathrooms. Most of us weren’t so strict in our observance at home, so it took getting used to.
We benched after every meal-it was like a big, wild, fun sing-along. I’d never benched before, really, and I remember having absolutely no clue what the hell everyone else was singing. But I caught on pretty quickly. It’s amazing what sheer repetition can do. That was definitely a useful thing I took away from camp.
The Israeli folk dancing we did every afternoon was less useful, but pretty fun. Maybe we didn’t do it every afternoon. It sure feels that way.
The camp is situated in the hills of Western North Carolina. It’s green and wooded, all that stuff. Beautiful, I’m sure, but of course all that beauty was wasted on us. It was hot as the devil. Lots of bugs. But I think that’s what summer camp is supposed to be like.
When it rained, one of the hills turned to pure mud. We would slide down it like it was a water park. We’d strip off and rinse clean before we came into the cabin, but our muddy clothes were generally kicked under the bunks to mildew. That smelled nice.
Maybe as a result of this kind of fun, I caught walking pneumonia at the end of my second summer at CJ. I was burning up, and this kid named Lance from Georgia felt my forehead and told me I should see the camp doctor. Man, was I sick. They pumped me full of some brutal antibiotics, and I spent about two full days puking into a bucket. My parents came to pick me up a day early. I could’ve gone to the final dinner-I’d asked this beautiful girl named Naomi to be my date-but by that time I felt so separate from the rest of camp, I just decided to go home.
In general, though, they’re all wonderful memories, and I’d gladly send my kids to such a place, when they’re old enough.
By Dana Lieb
I attended Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, North Carolina, for several years in the early 1980s. Thanks to my mom being an avid Hadassah leader and member of the Camp Committee, I was pretty much destined to attend CJ-and happy that I did. A Judaean through and through, I started as a camper and eventually returned as a counselor and arts-and-crafts assistant. As a kid I naturally gravitated to the camping experience. I loved having my own bunk space, organizing my camp clothes-with name tags written with a Sharpie-and having a crew of friends completely separate from my life at home. That said, I will always recall with dread the nasty, mildewed showers, cabin chores, and swimming classes in CJ’s freezing, black water “swimming pool.”
Although as a youngster I had no interest in attending a semi-religious camp (this was an extra facet of Camp Judaea that I simply endured every summer), I now value the Jewishness of this experience. I still remember the after-dinner prayers, Hebrew songs and dances, and history lessons disguised in programs. I am not particularly observant, but I think having this knowledge helped me better identify with my religion. Camp Judaea was a bit different from other Jewish camps in that it also had a strong Zionist component that found its way into almost all aspects of the camp. To this day I appreciate this unique facet of CJ and believe it has affected my personal and political beliefs as a proud, Zionist adult.
I am embarrassed to say, CJ was so long ago that I can’t recall too many particular stories or moments (almost makes me wish I had been better at keeping a journal, growing up). No matter-memories of my Camp Judaean times will always evoke a smile.