My philanthropy problem

I support my old summer camp, Naaleh, in New York, because I had many happy years there. I  made some good friends when I was young and lived back East. I lost touch with most of these friends when I got married and moved out to California, which was sad, but OK.

What is not OK is when one of those friends, after a 29-year hiatus, reconnects with a  sticky note that I thought was personal on a mass mailing letter. I was excited to see it. But all it said was we had gone to Naaleh together and she remembered me and could I please donate to Naaleh’s scholarship fund.  I threw the letter and the sticky note away.   I was hurt that, in romantic parlance, ‘she only loved me for my money.’

When we were high school kids, she and I hung around the National Office in downtown Manhattan and helped with mass mailings.  We never read what was in the envelopes, just weighed them and put the right postage on them.

I wonder if my friend was at the National Office, or if there even IS one.

Today, mass mailings can go out of your HOUSE. Maybe my old friend used her own printer to do a mailing and stuck a sticky note on my letter. Or, and I am sorry to say this happens, but it does, someone could have written a note on a post-it, signed her name, and stuck it on the letter. Either way, I felt ‘dissed.’

I will keep giving, because that is what I do, on my own schedule, which I track with a spreadsheet, but a sticky note that just repeated what was on the letter  wasn’t going to sway me.

I’m not going to name names here.  I’m tempted, but I will refrain. Maybe another blog post. But I encourage everybody out there to send their children to summer camp, especially a camp like Naaleh, where they encourage their campers to do things besides work on their tans. It was very good for me to get out of the house and out from under my parents feet, even if it was a hard adjustment.

My first days away from home were very difficult. I ran away from my bunk.  I hid in trees. I wondered why my parents ripped me out of my eigth floor bedroom with all my nice toys and books to go to a place with disgusting showers and bugs. But I eventually warmed up to Naaleh, and went back seven years in a row. This is an excerpt from the memoir I’m writing, called “The Girl on the Wall,” that gives a little flavor of being a child at Naaleh.

When I was nine, they sent me off to Habonim Camp Naaleh, a Socialist Zionist summer camp where we spent the days playing volleyball and making lanyards, and talking about Israel, class and wealth.

Habonim is a worldwide youth movement that was founded in the 1920s. In 1967, it had a camp in Red Hook, in upstate New York. The camps were modeled on the Israeli kibbutz. They were less religiously observant than many such camps, more observant than others. At Naaleh, we used the PA system and did arts and crafts on Shabbat, although we kept the kitchen kosher as a symbol of our commitment to being inclusive of all Jews — even the ones who believed in strict adherence to the laws separating men and women at prayer, and the ones that insisted married women cover their hair and that all women dress modestly. Tell that to the counselors running around in cutoff jeans and bandannas for halter-tops.

We learned Hebrew by using individual words for everyday summer things, like flagpole raising (mifkad), doing a couple of hours of menial labor after breakfast (avodah), arts and crafts (melachah), scout craft (tzofiut), along with reading mail (doar) after lunch (aruchat tzohoraim) in the dining room (hadar ochel) during rest period (menuchah). The tzevet (staff) scheduled the sichot (discussions).

I had no talent for jumping jacks or skipping rope, so my activities consisted of reading books I brought along from home. One day at camp, I was up a maple tree reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was peaceful and wonderful up in that tree, where the leaves shaded me from the outside world and cast a cool green light on my Modern Library edition. I was almost crying, though, because the story was so sad. Esmeralda — dragged through the streets in a tumbrel, stoned by the rabble after being tortured — was about to be hanged as a witch. Quasimodo was up at his usual perch in the bell tower, howling with grief. Poor Esmeralda! Poor Quasimodo!

Meanwhile, it was time for sicha, Discussion Group, an annoying activity that took place every day at 2:15 p.m., despite my dogged lack of participation. Hidden in my leafy perch, I was planning to read right through until the afternoon snack. Stupid groups, I thought.

Some of the older kids, maybe thirteen years old, plopped down in a semicircle at the base of my tree. The counselor, around twenty, leaned against the trunk.

“Who here knows what social class is?” he asked them. My ears perked up.

“Uh, a place where you learn about social studies?” one of the campers suggested.

I leaned out over my branch to see and hear more clearly.

“Not quite,” said the counselor. “Think about the song we sing, Arise, ye prisoners of starvation.” Slowly and stealthily, I began to climb down to hear better. “Remember how it ends with ‘The international working class will be the human race?’ Class is a big group of people who are alike. It has more to do with who has money and who doesn’t than with school.”

“Hey, I know!” I said, finally jumping to the ground. “If you have a place to live and enough to eat, you’re middle class or upper class. I was just reading about it,” I said, pointing to my book. “The priests and noblemen are upper class, and the people in the middle who have stores and stuff are middle class.”

“Well, what class are you?” the counselor asked me.

“Upper middle class,” I said with pride. “My father took us to Israel when I was six, and I got an English Racer bicycle for being brave when I got my shots.”

The counselor seemed to think this over. Then he nodded and invited me to join the discussion.

Finally, something I was happy to discuss.

About Onecakebaker

Author of a memoir called The Girl On the Wall, and working on a novel. Former Synagogue president, gardener, empty nester. Raising bees.
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