By Larry Gordon
School is over for the season, and camp is soon to begin for many. This transitional time of year has always been a defining time. Very often it required completing one era and then starting a new one.
So on these matters, here are a few things that come to mind. First is my graduation from eighth grade, which took place on a very hot day inside a construction site. I remember it so well because it was so terribly stuffy and uncomfortable.
The reason we were at that location was because I was graduating from the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway elementary school. The graduation took place inside their new but far-from-completed building on Church Avenue and East 45th Street in Brooklyn.
As far as I can recall, the graduation took place in a room that was surrounded by a steel structure without any walls even built yet. The temporary walls were made up of the blue tarp that you see frequently at construction sites. The problem on graduation day, aside from the penetrating heat, was that there was a loud rainstorm accompanied by thunder, lightning, and strong winds. The blue tarp was flapping in every direction but fortunately did not blow away. Somehow we received our diplomas and made our escape to our dry cars parked along E. 45th Street.
As it turns out, I don’t think the Yeshiva ever opened at that location, as the neighborhood changed very quickly and became a less-than-optimal neighborhood for a yeshiva. But it was a nice idea and a good try.
After spending that summer in camp I was off to Mesivta of Crown Heights which was walking distance from my home on Crown Street in Brooklyn.
As I have mentioned in this space, I was not very enthusiastic about going to sleepaway camp but later arrived at the conclusion that although I didn’t want to be there, I also had a good time and enjoyed it. I’m still trying to figure that out.
In my four summers in sleepaway camp I became a proficient and reliable second baseman, though I thought we did not play softball often enough. My theory is that second basemen are busy in a lot of camps because I noticed as a teenager that kids swing late and rarely get around on the ball to pull it to shortstop or third base if they are right-hand hitters, as most are. With the left-handed kids it goes without saying—you’d best be ready at second base.
During one of those summers the several years at second base was changed during color war when a combined team from other bunks required that I go from second base to right field. That was not a good move for the team or for me. In the first inning of one of those games, two late swing batters hit fly balls to right field, which I misjudged, and they sailed right over my head. It was not a good feeling. Two runs scored on those plays and we lost the game 2–1.
So far this year we have been to two preschool graduations and one yeshiva elementary school graduation. In previous years, there have been a plethora of graduations, mostly from nursery, preschool, and kindergarten. The few elementary school graduations occurred very recently, over the last year or two.
Thrown into this area of educational achievements was an array of Siddur and Chumash events, a breakfast marking the beginning of a child’s study of Gemara, which can take place at the start of or in the middle of the school year, and so on.
To my recollection, I had one elementary school, one high school, and one college graduation, and that was it. These days, the nature of your involvement and the fashion in which you care for your family is based on how many of these events you attend.
When you are told about one of these events, the words “But you don’t have to attend” are tacked on, and that’s usually a signal that you had better be there.
Next on the agenda in the coming weeks will be visiting day. When our children were in camp, being there on visiting days was both imperative and something that you wanted to really do.
As a grandparent, it is still something you’d like to do but the dynamic has definitely shifted. The most profound obstacle to visiting these days is not the intervening generation but rather the beyond-impossible traffic that one must negotiate in order to get to camp and then the painstakingly slow trek back home at the end of the day.
The last few years we have been exercising a grandparental prerogative—we visit the kids in camp on a weekday when it’s quiet in camp and on the roads. Of course, camps discourage this kind of off-peak visiting, and I’m not recommending that anyone do it (especially if it jeopardizes our ability to do so). These visits are brief and usually take place during lunch or some off period in the afternoon. This is not a recommended visiting day formula for non-grandparent visitors.
Here’s something else I did not look forward to in camp or anywhere else during the summer. Aside from the three-week period of mourning leading up to Tishah B’Av, when both the fasts of 17 Tammuz and Tishah B’Av fell out on a Sunday, I thought it created an additional hardship and extra dimension of deprivation in what is usually the best and most enjoyable season of the year.
In case you haven’t looked, that is how it falls out on our calendar this year, too. The two fasts actually come out on Shabbos but because we do not fast on Shabbos (except on Yom Kippur), both observances are moved to the next day, Sunday.
When Yom Kippur is on Shabbos, the fast day eclipses Shabbos and we abstain from eating food anyway. There is no Kiddush, no challah, no cholent—it is as if that Shabbos just does not exist.
Unlike Yom Kippur, Tishah B’Av, the other fast that begins at night, which denotes its profound depth and seriousness, is moved to the next day. The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that this dichotomy is an indication of the fact that with the advent of Mashiach, Tishah B’Av will be negated and reversed, in another way of looking at it, not dissimilar to how we will handle the fast this summer.
In camp, Tishah B’Av on Shabbos became a full weekend of observance. I recall that we had to bring our sneakers to shul on Friday afternoon, where we placed them in a big garbage bag under the bench in the shul where our bunk sat and davened. Then after Barchu on Saturday night, which signaled that Shabbos had ended, we would remove our leather shoes, put on our sneakers, continue with Ma’ariv and then go straight into reciting Eichah while sitting on the floor with most of the lights off.
I wasn’t a big fan of the whole scene, but we endured and we will, G-d willing, endure this summer too, unless, of course, He changes His mind.
One more thought on the matter of graduation. It is tiring but also enjoyable and a source of nachas to watch these young people, who not too long ago were babies, develop into early adulthood.
A speaker at Yeshiva of Spring Valley said last Sunday said that we see graduations as an end or a conclusion of an educational process of sorts. But, he added, it is also known as a “commencement exercise,” which denotes a start or the inauguration of an educational route.
And that is exactly what it is. We are witnessing their scholastic advancement, they are getting taller, and their faces are changing, if only slightly. It’s an amazingly joyful process—and only the beginning.
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