Since October 7th, as I have been processing so many overwhelming emotions and meditating on what it means to be Jewish, my yearning to be back in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains has intensified. Like so many of our campers and staff, I live “10-for-2.” Viscerally, I feel the longing to be at camp when I am not physically there. Even though I get to live my dream and be “doing camp” 365 days a year; in so many ways, being at camp is the only real thing.  Why do so many of us miss camp so acutely when it’s not summer time? And why is Jewish sleepaway camp more important now than ever?

Dr. Sandra Fox, author of The Jews of Summer: Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America, contends that “camp-sickness” is very real and just as powerful as “home-sickness.” She posits that the unique nature of summer camp only can be experienced during the summer while at camp. That is, no matter what we do to recreate that “camp vibe” in our homes, schools, synagogues, and communities; it’s not the same thing.

At the heart of Dr. Fox’s resonant thesis is the intentional choice architecture layered throughout the summer camp experience. Our leadership team, evolving the traditions passed down to our generation starting way back in 1948, creates a structure each summer where our campers essentially get to choose their own adventure. Of course, many of today’s campers are somewhat used to that in virtual worlds (from Tik Tok to gaming); but, it’s actually their real world at camp. Campers choose daily who they are going to talk to, which Blue Star option they are going to try, what original thoughts they might share at Shabbat, and how they are going to live their best life.

Dr. Fox asserts that sleepaway camp is “an opportunity for self-reinvention and an invitation to be messier, weirder and just more myself.” It is no surprise to those of us who are camp professionals that the same camper who is visibly homesick the first week of camp more often than not is the same camper who is crying to leave camp on closing day. Embracing “10-for-2,” as opposed to fighting that feeling, allows for those two months at camp (or one week through seven weeks, depending on the session) to work their magic. After all, Fox continues, “camp is supposed to feel different from — and, frankly, better than — home. That’s what gives camp its life-changing power.”

Lauren’s grandfather and great uncles (Herman, Harry, & Ben) founded Blue Star in 1948 to create a safe haven for Jewish children throughout the South to have a place to be in the summer where they could feel physically and emotionally safe expressing their Jewishness. That founding mission burns brightly today as we embark on our 77th season of Blue Star magic, welcoming campers from across the country and world. This summer campers can feel safe and supported as they proudly wear their Stars of David on their necklaces, talk openly with their best friends and counselors about their personal experiences this school year, and remember what it’s like to belt out their favorite Shabbat songs Friday night while swaying together with their arms around one another. This is a generational moment for us to create space for our kids to fully be Jewish; Jewish sleepaway camp at Blue Star is one such space.

May our light shine extra brightly this Hanukkah! L’Chaim to a safe, hopeful, and peaceful New Year as we already look ahead to next summer 2024!

11 thoughts on “Campsickness

  1. I truly can relate to “camp sickness”.
    It’s been 50 years since I was a camper at Blue Star. My experience there had such an impact on my life, my heart aches to go back and re-live those wonderful memories. These are feelings that I could only feel at Camp Blue Star and will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. If only I were young again!

    1. Oh my goodness! It’s been 51 years since I began my camping adventure at Blue Star. Blue Star was more my home than anything, I counted the days until I was getting on that Trailways bus from Miami to Hendersonville! I made the most incredible friendships there, and am still best friends with a cabin mate today. I understood “camp sickness” all too well. Thank you Blue Star and the Popkin Family for giving me a foundation for Judaism and for instilling in me the love I have for nature and the outdoors. My experiences there were one of the pinnacles of my life!

  2. Thanks Seth. 45 years later I still get campsickness when June rolls around remembering those great days on the waterfront. I know it’s my imagination, but when I look west from our place in the mountains in the magic of twilight, I still see the light of Blue Star. Thanks to you and Lauren for continuing the tradition. I had the privilege to know Harry, Herman and Roger. They would be proud. Happy Hanukkah to you and your families.

    1. Coming from a small town mentality, Camp Blue Star afforded me a chance to be in an inclusive environment. I blossomed there, felt grounded, and made lifetime friends. My sister was a counselor there, my folks took on important roles in leading the camp, my children and other relatives followed. I have some of the best memories of my life at Camp Blue Star. 1952-1980.

  3. I was a counselor at Blue Star in the summer of 1958, and was scheduled to return in 1959, but had to cancel because of a family illness.
    It was a memorable summer for me, after my first year in college. I learned a lot about myself, my Jewish values, and made many lasting friends. I treasure that summer, and was fortunate to spend considerable time with Herman, less with Harry, and respect what they accomplished. Congrats to you all for keeping their dream alive and functioning.

  4. sleepaway camp is “an opportunity for self-reinvention and an invitation to be messier, weirder and just more myself.”

    Made me think of my experience as a counselor at Blue Star in the ’60’s.
    We set up the chore wheel and upon arrival one of our campers made a correction on her name and we changed it and called her by that name.
    About a week later a girl came to our cabin and asked for Brenda. We told her we did not have a camper named Brenda. She argued and said she knew her sister was in this cabin. We asked where she was from and she said Dallas Texas. “Oh”, I said, ” you mean Cookie! ”
    We called Cookie out and it turned out she was the sister. Her sister said “Cookie? That’s never been her name”. Cookie said she always wanted to be Cookie and thought at camp she could!

  5. I attended Camp Blue Star from 1952 until I think 1958 or 1959. I was voted the Mayoress of Teen Age Village. If the TAV cabins haven’t been torn down or painted on the inside…My name should be somewhere inside one of the cabins. I have stayed in touch with several campers & Counselor or CIT also. I am NOT on FB or any other Social medias. Is there any way of getting an UPDATED list of names of Campers, etc from those years. Maybe a nice gesture would be to send out an email to ALL Campers from the years of the
    1949….1950’s….1960’s and ask for permission to print Name and Updated Address IF THEY WANT SO OLDER CAMPERS COULD REACH OUT TO THEM. Remember we are in our 70’s, 80’s and hopefully 90’s. This would be such a help from out Wonderful Experiences at Camp Blue Star. I’m quite aware of the Privacy act that’s why I’m suggesting a Consent Form that can be signed or we can call in to the Camp now during OFF SEASON to get UPDATED LIST. Maybe even list ALL CAMPERS from that time and if they are NOW Deceased. Many of us would know. Blue Star was just beginning and a much shorter list of Campers. A suggestion that I wish you would seriously take into consideration.

  6. It was June of 1950…the year that Uncles Herman and Harry opened their summer camp in the Blue Ridge mountas. Though I did not know back then that I was the very first and only “Yankee” to be a Blue Star camper.

    I can still remember vividly being the only one getting off the train at the Hendersonville whistle top…standing there alone with my duffle bag as it slowly chugged away. About 15 minutes later a pick-up truck arrived with a couple of young men who shouted out to me….”Is y’all Stuart Pinkert?” At that momemt my indoctrination into the Southern dialect began…and with that delightful accent and choice of words my llfe would never be the same.
    From those summers camping days as a Senior Camper…Teen Age Villager….CIT and Junior Counselor my six years at Blue Star were among the happiest of my youth. Even though my cabin mates tossed bread at me when I refused to stand an sing “Dixie” (“Hey, the Civil war is long over…you lost….let’s eat!” ) the close
    friendships made at Blue Star and the warm Southern hospitality was the highlight of those summers.
    Most of it is a blur now…but when I hear the song “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” being played on the radio, my mind goes back to dancing on the Pavilion on Saturday nites with my summer “love”.

    Years later I sent my children to Blue Star as well as other relatives…hoping that they, in turn, would be able
    to enjoy the same experiences and positive feelings that came my way in the ’50’s. As Archie Bunker and wife, Edith sang in that famous TV sit-com “All in the Family”….”Those were the days!”

  7. I as told, back in the day that I was the youngest camper to attend CBS. That was 69 years ago at age 5 yrs old. My older sister and myself both attended CBS. I attended CBS I believe for 9 or maybe 10 full summer sessions. Whenever they couldn’t find me, they’re check in with Mr Huntley at the stables. Not only did I learn to ride horses, I enjoyed every thing about horse and always hung out at the stables. To this day, now just turning 74 yrs old, I often bring to life my experiences and enjoyment of being a CBS camper from my days in Pioneer Village through Teenage Village! I had many friends at CBS, some of which I was in contact for many years. I wrote my name on the rafters in many cabins along with many friends who came to CBS from all over the country. Do they still serve Bug Juice with meals? CBS was an awesome experience and would relive those experiences in a heartbeat if I could!
    Thank you CBS for teaching me about many of life’s offerings. Happy Chanukah. Keep your lights burning bright!
    David Picow

  8. I miss Blue Star sometimes. I never thought about the word “campsickness” before today, but someday I would like to go back and see the Cabins I stayed in, the New Gym(is it still the “New Gym” like 40 years later?), the Rec Hall, the Elmore Solomon Chapel, etc. Lot of great memories from those summers.

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