Thursday, July 16, 2020

Summer Camp and the Poconos (Norman, Ann & Eleanor)

Something incredible happened during our Zoom session a few weeks back. Norman was the first to tell his story, about working at Camp Joseph and Betty Harlam, a Reform Jewish summer camp in the Pocono Mountains. It was gorgeous and detailed, and it felt like I was right there in that lush mountainous camp instead of hunkered down in front of my computer. And then, Ann said that she used to work as a waitress in the Poconos, and she talked about how much it had changed since she and Norman had been up there in the 50s and 60s. And then, Eleanor told her story about being a camper at Jewish Y camp in northern Ontario. I always love when the older buds build on each others' stories, but these stories showed us how connected we were in unusual ways.

I'm going to post all four stories here, so we can all take our own summer vacation someplace with a little more sun, a little more fresh air, and a little less coronavirus:

Norman Cain
Camp Joseph and Betty Harlam

I thought that I would give a story verbally about my experiences between ’58, ’59 and 1960, when I would work from mid-June to late September at Camp Joseph and Betty Harlam, which was a Reform Jewish camp in the Pocono Mountains, which was located in a little village called Kunkletown which was about maybe 20 miles (my geography is off) either north, east, west or south of Stroudsburg. And I got the job through my counselor at John Bartram High School; he referred me to the Vice Principal in charge of discipline whose name was Menchie Goldblatt who was a very famous man in Philadelphia and really throughout the United States around in the ‘30s and beyond. If you would go down to Palestra, Penn’s basketball facility and probably the oldest such facility in the nation you could see his picture, because he (Mr. Goldblatt) was an All American basketball player in 1935 and he did a lot to get Philadelphia College, in the early days when it was called Philadelphia Textile, their athletic program off of the ground. Well, it was very interesting working in the Pocono Mountains in those days, because in those days – it wasn’t built up the way it was built up now. It was just beautiful pretty mountains and fresh air, and you had the Pennsylvania Dutch riding around in their buggies and whatnot. And from our school to work at the camp we had maybe about eight or nine kids, they would always have two or three girls that would work in the kitchen but they would always have at least one that would act as a babysitter for Mr. Goldblatt’s daughter who was married. We did kitchen work, and I didn’t have to do it but with my best friend, he was in charge of keeping everything at camp together, and so I would help him mow fields (not lawns), paint cabins, and once a week we would go down to Allentown to take the laundry and sometimes we had to go up to Stroudsburg. And luckily the rabbis would loan us their cars and we would take forays into Wilkesboro. It was really a lot of fun. I got a chance to learn how to row, boat, how to canoe. And of course there was a nice swimming pool. We played softball, volleyball, and we had a basketball team. And of course with Mr. Goldblatt being an All American in basketball in 1935, we would play other camps. And that was a lot of fun. And another great recreational activity was the campfires at night. And even though we didn’t know the meanings of the words we got a chance to sing a lot of Jewish folk songs. I think the name of the dance is the Horah that we did. Oh, that was so beautiful. And see we were in our later teens so we got to be friends with the counselors. We had two sessions with the younger kids that would come in and we made a lot of money putting baggage in cars and taking baggage from cars when another group would come in, and then put the baggage in the cabins. All together it was a beautiful experience with the fresh air and whatnot, and the thing was we made $250.00 (well, I did- my buddy, he made more) for the summer, plus the tips we got from assisting parents with their baggage when one group would leave and another group would come. The last group that would come in would be the college students and the teenagers, and that was the best time. And one of our activities was to set up the synagogue. And that was extremely interesting. And for those three years in the spring we would be there for the weekends for retreats of the rabbis- I really, really learned a lot. And then there was a guy named Jay Mandell, he was a good basketball player with us and then later on I would see him as a basketball referee at the Baker Leagues. Sonny Hill was involved in that, that’s something I won’t expound upon but that was during the days like in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, that was actually a professional basketball league. You know, we have 32 teams now, then we probably had about 12 teams. But these fellows, they would come and play at Bright Hope Baptist Church down at 12th and Columbia at the time. Well Jay Mandell—and he was actually a—he didn’t get paid for it, but he was an actual professional referee, and he was a sociologist, and he wrote a book and he had adopted a Black kid that went on to be a great basketball player. So we made a lot of friends; it was a great opportunity for me to be enmeshed in another culture. I forgot to mention – we had a cook, he was from the first world war, an Afro man and he was really, really a nice guy. He was a major cook and he had this assistant cook and he would tell us all of these stories about the first world war and whatnot. And he was very, very good, and the food was excellent. The Jewish food, it was really, really, really excellent. And we came back in better physical shape than when we went up. I miss those days. It was really great because I got a chance to be enmeshed in another culture and see another way of life. And up until that point each summer I was going to South Carolina. Now, you know I write about that a lot, but what would happen would be I would save enough money to be able to, around Thanksgiving, pay my own way to South Carolina. And then because I had the opportunity for the last two years of high school and my first year of college, I had the opportunity to make money so I would go to South Carolina, and I paid my own way. And in closing I would say that once I visited when – I think I must have been in my sophomore year in college in West Virginia- and I went up to see a girlfriend at Penn State, and I saw one of the counselors there, and it was sort of like a reunion. So it’s a great memory, and I had a beautiful time up there in the Poconos. The only thing is that when I go up there now, it’s all different, the building and whatnot, up there and it’s not the same as it used to be.  

Ann von Dehsen
A Waitress in the Poconos

I used to work as a waitress in the Poconos in the late 60’s early 70’s at one of those, not a huge resort, but it had an inn and cottages around it. We used to travel around to the different inns and stuff, it was all beautiful. And I went back about ten years ago and it’s all—I don’t know—like casinos and these huge resorts with indoor swimming pools and casinos and gaming rooms. So it was horrible. I know what you mean because we used to just drive down on the weekends and see all the pretty, the falls and all, there were lots of waterfalls.

Eleanor Kazdan
A Jewish Y Camp in Northern Ontario  

Norman, your story really tugged at my heart strings because I was a camper at a camp in Ontario, Canada that was like your camp in the Poconos. Except I was a Jewish camper. So even though I hadn’t planned to talk about it I can’t resist because it was just one of the greatest experiences of my life. I started in—I think it was the same time, in 1959, I started as a camper, I guess I was about 9 years old. It was a Jewish Y camp in northern Ontario on a beautiful lake. I did write a memoir about it, but that was a while ago. It was a very rough camp. We had to walk to a central bathroom, and we didn’t have any electricity. There were people from all income levels, which I thought was fabulous because the camp fees were on a sliding scale. You just had, it was just a very egalitarian group. We did all the things that you were talking about; canoeing, swimming. It wasn’t a fancy camp (some of the other camps had horseback riding and we never had that). But you know, I learned to be an expert canoeist. When I was 15–I went every summer for three weeks and made just fabulous friends—but when I was 15 I became a counselor in training, and stayed for the whole summer. And then after that I went up to be a junior counselor, where by the way I made $35 for the whole summer. Then as a senior counselor in, I guess it must have been 1967, I made $150 for the whole summer. And we also got tips, we got tips, just like I guess you did. That was one of the best experiences of my life—one of the best days of my life so far was summer camp in northern Ontario. Unfortunately the best friend that I made there, Kathy, she died many years ago. So I met Kathy and I met another woman who I sometimes keep in touch with. And the singing…we just got hoarse every summer from so much singing of camp songs, and walking around with our arms around each other, and the camp fires, and the roasting marshmallows, roasting hot dog, canoe trips…well first when I was a camper, we went on canoe trips with- they were called “Trippers”, mostly guys, they were trained to take people on canoe trips in this pretty remote park called Algonquin Park where you can’t get anywhere except by boat and canoe. When I was a counselor I actually was one of the leaders of those canoe trips. We’d go out for four days and camp outside, and just canoe the whole day long. So Norman, your story just brought back all these memories of summer camp! So from the age of 9 until 17 I went to summer camp like the one you described. Except it wasn’t religious, it was secular. We had no religious affiliation. But it was mostly Jewish kids. So that’s my story!

And if you're still looking for more stories, then check out our fearless leader Benita on the Hazard Girls podcast. Hazard Girls' host Emily Soloby (Founder and CEO of Juno Jones Safety Shoes, ) interviews women working in non-traditional fields about their career paths. And Benita's episode is right on their front page!

And as if that wasn't enough, Benita's son Kian illustrated last week's Zoom session. My favorite parts are Carolyn's phone icon, Edwina's paused camera, and the detail he put into everyone's names:

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And don't forget to maintain contact with the older buds in your life. If you can't be there in person, please call them, email them, or message them on social media. And if they're using teleconferencing or remote events for the first time, give them a call and help them set things up. Check in on them to see how well they're getting used to these programs. Buy them a computer or an internet package if they don't have one of their own. It's a human right, after all.

Curated by Caitlin Cieri