If there was any concern that modern technology would mark the end of missives from camp, the fear seems to have been unfounded. Kids may be glued to their smartphones during the school year, but the letter from camp is not only surviving, it’s thriving.
“Quite honestly, we are finding that kids are writing just as often as any other year of camp,” said Louis Bordman, senior director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Eisner camp in Great Barrington, Mass, which requires campers to write two letters home a week during their rest periods. The rule gets them writing, but how much and what the campers writes, Bordman explains, is up to the campers themselves.
“Depending on what’s going on, I’m finding that kids are telling their parents [about] the friends they have made, or the things that are going on.” he explained. “Certainly, when they are not feeling up to par, they want their parents to know so they do that quite rapidly as well.” In other words, they know how to write a “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” letter.
Campers are writing home for the reasons they’ve always written home: to report good news, occasionally because of a problem, because they have to, and of course, to request essentials. Take a recent letter Lynn Weitzman received from her 11-year-old son.
“Today, he asked for more mouthwash,” she said by phone from Great Neck, N.Y. “I sent him with a tremendous amount of mouthwash,” she explained, unsure where it all went since her son arrived for his second summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, N.Y. He also asked for more socks, batteries, and a new address book.
Although the mouthwash went missing, or was perhaps used up by his bunkmates, the good news is he’s keeping his parents abreast of camp happenings. And given that Camp Ramah encourages, but does not require, campers to write two letters a week, Weitzman’s son has been writing quite often–nine letters between the start of camp and mid-July.
Less often means morewhen it comes to letters home. The best complaint Bordman get from parents is that the letters they get are short on details. “If they’re having such a good time that they’re not even wanting to write a letter,” he said, “that says that’s a pretty happy kid.”
One thing that has changed at camp is the introduction of email. At Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, parents can email letters to their campers in addition to, or in place of, mailed letters. However, Rabbi Paul Resnick, the camp’s director, encourages snail mail over email.
“I have often told parents that though they can email their child through our email system, there is something warm, nurturing, and campy to receive [mail] in the traditional way,” he said by email.
And anyone who has ever received a letter at camp understands Resnick’s feelings. The postal service certainly creates a different feeling than Gmail.
Parents and campers at Camp Eisner are taking full advantage of the camp’s email system. “We are printing out, gosh, in a camp of over 550 campers … over 600, 700 sheets of paper a day,” Bordman said. Campers can choose whether to send a letter the old fashioned way, or write on a sheet of paper that contains the family barcode and gets scanned and emailed as a PDF to their parents.
Evan Mallah’s almost 11-year-old son has been using Eisner’s email system to share news and place requests with his parents. (In a recent letter he reported that he’d lost a tooth and requested some magic cards.) Mallah, who attended Eisner himself and is a board member of URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, is finding that his kids’ letters are mirroring his own letter home from camp. “I really find today, it’s extremely similar,” he said by phone from his office in Manhattan.
Whether sent by email or stamped at the post office, the letters surprise parents with unexpected detail. Rabbi Eve Rudin, an Eisner parent and alumna, who is the director of the Congregational School at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York and a past director of the URJ Kutz Camp, received one such letter. Her daughter shared “a little bit about her first ‘relationship’ (for which I will be forever grateful for even being allowed a slight bit of access to this important moment in her life),” Rabbi Rudin wrote in an email.
If there are still any lingering doubts about letters home, I defer to a recently discovered letter from my sister, a Ramah Berkshires alum. In a letter written in July 1992 on “I Love Camp” stationery, she first asked how I was, and then got to business: “Please tell mommy S.O.S. on the sleeping bag.” The camp required sleeping bags, and she hadn’t brought one. It might not be mouthwash or magic cards, but some things never change.
Susan Cohen is a freelance writer living in New York. She blogs here.