In 2018, if someone asked me if I had plans for the summer, I would respond enthusiastically “I’m going to sleepaway camp!”. Everyone looked both amused and surprised at my genuinely excited response.
In truth, I had every reason to be excited. I had never been to a Jewish sleepaway camp or any sleepaway camp for that matter. If you don’t know, Jewish sleepaway camps are one of the quintessential Jewish American experiences for Jewish children and teenagers. Every summer a group of girls from my synagogue in Shamokin, Pennsylvania would head off to a sleep-away camp for Jewish children called Camp Louise (I can’t believe I just remembered that name!)
For me though, every summer when I asked my parents if I could go to summer camp, their answer was always the same “Now Harriet” I can still hear my mother saying “a sleepaway camp is expensive! We are holding on to that money for your college education”. To which I would respond; “Then could I go to Bible School? All the kids in our neighborhood are going!” My mother would quickly remind me that we were Jewish and that only Christian children attended bible school in the summer. So unfortunately for me, while the neighborhood was full of children in the summer, the mornings were lonely for me while everyone was attending bible school. I begged my mother one more time to allow me to attend bible school, but she was most definite about this decision and asked that I not bring it up again.
As I became more involved with singing songs in Yiddish, a friend suggested that I attend KlezKanada, a week-long summer Jewish music festival located in the Laurentian mountains just outside of Montreal. The festival focused on Jewish traditional arts and Yiddish culture. The opportunity to work with renowned Yiddish performers was appealing, but when I found out that the festival was being held at the Camp B’nai B’rith in beautiful Lantier, Quebec; I knew I was going whatever the cost! KlezKanada participants arrived just after the children who had spent the summer at Camp B’nai B’rith departed, so at the ripe age of sixty-seven I was finally going to have my Jewish sleepaway camp experience.
It was everything I could ever have hoped for. Clean mountain air, three kosher meals a day, a beautiful sparkling lake to jump into after a day of activities, and many live performances both to watch and be a part of. The two summers I attended KlezKanada were life changing and enhanced my current project of ‘Tears, Joy and Hope’ in many ways. If it had not been for the pandemic in 2020, I would have returned again this year.
KlezKanada did take place virtually, but of course so many elements including the live performance opportunities were missing. Like so many other things, I look forward to the festival’s return at Camp B’nai B’rith when it is safe to do so. My next blog will focus on the teachers and musicians I met at KlezKanada who enhanced my concert “Tears, Joy, and Hope: Yiddish Songs Written in the Jewish Ghetto”. Stay tuned and please feel free to share my blogs with others.
Have fun watching these KlezKanada videos! https://klezkanada.org/laurentian-retreat/
Image courtesy of KlezKanada, artist’s credit to Avia Moore