Camp America only lasts two months, but its gifts last a lifetime.
Back in 1992, the 21-year-old student with Harry Styles hair in these dusty old polaroids had the best summer of his life as a counsellor at Nah-Jee-Wah, a Jewish kids’ camp in Milford, Pennsylvania.
There he discovered more about himself in two months than he ever imagined.
‘Counsellor Rich’ was thrown in at the deep end as big brother to a bunk of lively 11-year-old boys, coping with homesickness and bed-wetting [but enough about me], tantrums, quarrels and 101 other pre-teen highs and lows.
He tried his best to set an example and solve every problem. And the more his campers relied on him, the more reliable he became.
Today I can see how the summer of ’92 taught me to become a responsible, reliable adult. Of course back then I was having so much fun that, like the Karate Kid doing “Wax on, wax off”, I didn’t even know I was learning.
At Nah-Jee-Wah I discovered what made me tick and where my talents lay.
I organised a murder mystery that gave half the camp nightmares [see crime scene picture above!]. I held Elvis Day, when the kids had to say “Uh huh huh!” instead of “hello” to mark the King’s birthday. [You had to be there].
I learned to juggle, play guitar and tie-dye t-shirts [not at the same time] and mastered all the harmonies and hand-gestures for Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game, sung every Friday night at the beautiful Shabbat service by the lake.
I led bonfire sing-a-longs and made up a new yell, cheer or chant every day. [“We are Levi 42 we are an Orthodox bunk, we wear yarmulkes on our head and eat gefilte fish for lunch. We say words like ‘Kvetch’ and ‘Oy vey’, ‘Mazeltov’ and ‘Shabbat shalom’. And as an added bonus, the girls think we’re attractive!”]
I used my accent to devastating effect on the American female counsellors. I broke a heart [sorry Wendy!] and had mine broken [We’ll always have the boat shed, Deborah!].
And I earned rave reviews for my Cumberbatch-esque Big Bad Wolf in the end-of-camp theatre production of Into The Woods.
It wasn’t all good news. Camp also, tragically, changed me on the outside. I returned home looking like a Saved By The Bell extra in my Yankees baseball cap [reversed], Champion college sweatshirts, friendship bracelets up to my elbows and red bandana patches on my jeans.
Oh yeah, I was quite a dude.
I was thrilled when the camp asked me to return the following year. I said yes in a heartbeat and duly had the second best summer of my life. Going back to Nah-Jee-Wah felt like coming home.
So take it from Counsellor Rich. If you’re a student with a summer to fill, attending Camp America’s London open day on 24 January will be the smartest move you’ll make all year.
You’ll reminisce about the summer of 2016 for years to come.
* For more information about Camp Nah-Jee-Wah see http://nahjeewah.org