Chani and Yochanan Gordon seeing their kids off to camp

This can be considered a summer diary in reverse. Instead of talking about the present as some people do, I decided to reminisce about the past, about those wonderful summers of my youth up in the Catskills.

Let’s start with my bungalow colony days in the mid-1960s and see how far we get before we run out of space and patience. During those hot summer days, my mom spent the weekdays with us in the mountains, and as far back as I can recall, my dad went into the city on Tuesday mornings and usually returned either late on Thursday night or early Friday morning.

My brother Yossy and I shared a bedroom in that little bungalow, and I recall hearing something unusual like a door opening or a light going on and whispering to my brother, “Hey, daddy is here.”

Those were beautiful moments of long ago that I still cherish to this day, and I would blame you for making me get a little emotional and tearing up except for the fact that I’m the one writing these words and putting them down on paper. So, it’s not your fault.

Back in 2020, when we were in the midst of the Covid pandemic, I rented a home in Ellenville and attempted to retrace my steps to that old bungalow colony of my youth, to take a walk down memory lane, so to speak. But it wasn’t so easy, I discovered. I had to use a combination of Waze and distant memories, but I finally found the place, all overgrown with weeds with roofs caving in, looking desolate and abandoned.

Luckily, the grounds were accessible, but it was difficult to piece together which buildings fit into our early childhood as I stood there mentally piecing together the bits and fragments of those memories.

The bungalow colony was called Pine View Hill and aside from my parents, there were numerous other families of some prominence with names like Twersky, Halberstam, and Rokeach, among others. They were our neighbors and my parents’ friends. I put those names out there in the hope that someone who remembers those days will reach out to me so we can reminisce.

There was no pool on the premises, but we did have a lake where everyone was able to go swimming. Part of the lake was roped off as a partition where young kids were allowed to swim.

We were very young in those days, and we had an enjoyable and unforgettable time. Apparently, the adults did too, otherwise we would not have returned season after season.

A few years later it was time to think about going to sleepaway camp. I would have been pleased not to entertain that notion, but it was really not my choice, or at least, I only had one vote while my parents had two. So, I reluctantly ended up in camp.

The funny thing about sleepaway camp was that I didn’t really want to go, but once I was there, I had a great time. That might teach you a lot about life in general.

I went to camp for four summers: two in Camp Gan Yisrael in Swan Lake and two in Camp Agudath in Ferndale. Starting back in 1965, my parents began to make their annual trips during the summer to Israel. These weren’t just ten-day jaunts. My father, as many of you might know, was a prodigious journalist who wrote in Yiddish. Those long trips to Israel probably meant months of material he intended to use to flavor his writings with stories and illustrious personalities.

It is important to understand that this was decades before email and decades before the advent of the fax machine. So, how did he do it? Well, he took his trusty typewriter with him wherever he went along with plenty of paper and carbon paper.

He wrote whatever he had to write, made carbon copies, and then folded the sheets of typewritten copy, went to the post office, and mailed it to his newspaper in New York. In those days, getting an airmail delivery took about two weeks. The letters he and my mom wrote us in camp also took about two weeks to arrive, so it wasn’t the best way to exchange the latest news. Basically, the letters consisted of “How are you?” and “Are you having fun?”

We wrote back, of course, but from the time we wrote the words to the time the letter was received by my parents, we might not have been having such a great time. But that didn’t matter so much. That’s how people communicated fifty-plus years ago, and it was an even playing field for all.

My best years as a teenager and then as a twenty-year-old were spent working in some of the Catskills hotels, specifically the once-great Pioneer Country Club. That was one of the things that my parents would allow me to do even though I didn’t have to ask permission per se. That was the brilliance of their parenting style without ever attending a parenting workshop. Of course, there had to be parameters, but you knew when to say when, so to speak.

Those were good times with the friends we made for life.

A few years later, as a guest on July 4th at one of the popular and busy hotels in the Catskills, in this case Grossinger’s, I met my wife and we began dating. We got engaged in November and by March of the following year, we were already married. The thing that contrasts most with how things are done today is that there was no one else involved in the process except the two of us.

There were no third parties involved, no pre-marital therapy, and certainly no dating coaches. What does a dating coach do anyway? I know what football and basketball coaches do, but what does a dating coach do—give you pep talks and root for you?

It sounds simple and while it didn’t really work for everyone, it was certainly easier than what the young people have to deal with today.

That July 4th weekend used to be called a singles weekend. My friend Ruby Blumenthal, who is a youthful 87-years-old, stopped by my office last week and asked me what I thought was the solution to all the older singles out there looking for matches.

Ruby said the vital element that was missing was a hotel where young people could congregate on an average summer Shabbos, which is probably the reason for our present social quagmire.

I listened to him and knew what he was referring to, but I also told him to put the idea out of his head. Those days are not coming back, I told him, when young people in their early 20s could go to a hotel for July 4th weekend or Shabbos Nachamu or even Labor Day with the intent of socializing and possibly meeting one’s bashert.

One of the main reasons why it won’t happen is primarily because those hotels are gone, and unless there’s some kind of revolutionary social movement, they will never come back.

This summer, a few of my grandchildren are coming to Camp Munk. The girls are going to some other camps whose names I don’t recall. The older grandkids are 15-16 and some are already 17. They are junior counselors or waiters and in one case on the lifeguard staff.

My father, Nison Gordon, came to this country in 1934 when he was 16 and I think I remember him telling me that he went to Camp Torah Vodaas for a season or two. If that is accurate, then our summer camps go back about 90 years.

I was in Cedarhurst last Shabbos and after Minchah, a young father that I know asked me which Nison Gordon was going to be his son’s Junior Counselor in camp this summer. We have a fair number of kids in our family who carry the name Nison after my dad. But when he asked me the question, I had to think for a second. It wasn’t my father, of course, nor my son Nison, who is over 30 years old, so it must be my grandson, Nison, who turns 17 this week. So, Happy Birthday Nison and Happy Birthday to Dovid Hirsch, who will also be at Camp Munk this summer. Have a great time and, like your Zaidy, create some wonderful memories to last a lifetime.

 

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