Thursday, July 4, 2013

Summer Camp Memories

Ah, Eagle Day Camp!  The local Jewish Day Camp in our area in New Jersey, all of the kids from the neighborhood went there, and we spent two quality months swimming and putting on plays and playing dodge ball.  The camp had their own uniform, an Eagle Day Camp t-shirt, and so getting dressed in the morning required no thought or planning.

Years later I worked as a bus counselor and Lifeguard at the Jacob and Rose Grossman Day Camp in Boston, and saw the experience from the other side, and found it just as enjoyable.  The Lifeguards were the coolest staff in camp, if you ignored the snakes and snapping turtles in the lake.  We saw the kids for a half hour at a time and then they returned to their haggard bunk counselors.  We got to walk around in our bathing suits all day. 

One of those summers, on Parents' Day, one very ambitious six year old boy decided to show his parents how well he knew the crawl stroke, and found himself in deeper water than he expected.  I was already dressed in my favorite Yankees pullover, when I saw him struggling in the water.  Without thinking, I jumped into the water and pulled him out, performing this dramatic rescue in front of all the parents and staff present.  For years the story was told and became legend, and my younger brother would boast proudly, "That was my sister!"

This year, in Jerusalem, I must admit that I am spoiled and have no right to complain.  Raphaela's Gan finishes at the beginning of August, and then she will attend a week long camp for bilingual (Hebrew/English) speaking children.  There are only two weeks before school begins again, where I must obtain a baby sitter and make plans to work around Raphaela's lack of schedule.

Most Israeli parents have had vacation since July.  Many of the pre-school programs arrange what they call Camp:  same teachers, same facilities, less hours and less structure, for which they charge extra so that parents may continue to work, albeit part-time.  Then you can send your child to a camp here, a camp there, for one to three weeks at a time and again, pay more money for these brief programs than you did all year for nursery.

A friend of mine and mother of three said to me today, "I work all year so I can send my kids to camp for two months."

Next year, when Raphaela will officially participate in the Municipality school system, I will struggle with the same issues as these parents, more vacation days than she has ever had before.  Paradoxically, the new incompetent Minister of Finance claims that his sole purpose is to encourage families and especially women to enter the workforce.  But how is a mother or father supposed to keep a normal workday if their children have no program or supervision for two months out of the year?  And how am I as a single mother supposed to work a full schedule when I have no one at all to pick up the slack?

Recently I celebrated my 16th anniversary of my move to Israel;  I noted to a friend today that  Israel is my home and for all its flaws I am here to stay.  However, Israel could learn from the American institution of consistent, high quality, cost-effective summer camps.  With youth centers scattered all over the country (paid for by the overwhelming profits of the Israeli Lottery), nursery school staff and eager teenagers, the infrastructure already exists.

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