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Summer camp connection

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Opinions


In the photograph in my dorm room my sister and I are on vacation in Michigan in the mid-90s. I am wearing a flowered sundress and she is wearing a red t-shirt and blue shorts. We are not at the height of fashion, even for the ’90s. My arm is thrown around her and a huge smile is plastered to my face. Her face is scrunched up, she is leaning away and it doesn’t take a body language expert to tell you that she doesn’t want to be there.

Throughout my childhood, I envied sisters who were close. I saw a sister as a constant playmate, but Micah often just wanted to be by herself or with other friends. She, at three grades younger, defied the stereotype of the younger sister who always wanted to tag along.

I was always the more affectionate one, offering her hugs and piggyback rides. She wanted no part in it, recoiling as my arms reached for her.

I credit my displays of affection to being a camp kid. From the summer I turned nine, my fellow campers and I were encouraged to hold hands, hug, sit close together and understand that within limits, physical closeness was something to embrace, not avoid.

That mindset went home with me at the end of each summer, but it struggled to find an outlet. At school, holding hands with a friend wasn’t encouraged like it was at camp. My parents loved the show of affection, but Micah was often the unwilling recipient. At six years old, she had just started first grade and was forging a new identity.

Eight years flashed, a montage of memories, keepsakes and photographs. There were many fights, a few tears, but far more laughs. Micah and I grew closer, but never as close as the eight-year-old me had wanted.

A family trip to Israel, with an overly enthusiastic song leader and a bunch of passionate and persuasive camp kids changed Micah’s life. On a long bus ride in the Negev, we did what I had been unable to do for eight years—get her to consider going to camp with us the following summer.

Her first summer at camp preceded her freshman year of high school. It was also, in my opinion, one of the most defining summers of her life. Camp worked its magic on her and she left with a greater sense of confidence and a greater sense of herself as an American Jewish teenager. Best of all, to me, she finally appreciated and reciprocated affection, especially toward her camp friends, of which I was now one.

After that summer, we started spending much more time together. We were attending the same school for the first time in seven years and we had more mutual friends than ever. We were finally at an age where a two and a half year age difference didn’t seem like all that much. I know that it was her camp experience that gave us more commonalities than differences. It’s been almost two years since then and our relationship is still growing and thriving. We are now the best friends I have always wanted us to be.

In October of last year, I spent an afternoon in Cambridge with Micah and Miranda, a friend from camp. Miranda took a black and white photo of Micah and me. We are in front of an awning and, at 16, she was slightly taller then me, but I am leaning into her and her head is tilted towards me. This time, we are both smiling.

Miranda’s photography teacher showed the picture to the class and complimented her on the emotional power of the shot. It is obvious, she said, that these sisters are incredibly close.