My letters home from camp read something like this: “Dear Mom and Dad, Camp is really great. I never knew there were so many Jewish people! Shabbat is pretty. I have a good friend here. Bye!”
That wasn’t sent from Greene Family Camp, but from Joseph and Betty Harlam Camp Institute (now URJ Camp Harlam), just before my 8th birthday.
Since that early discovery of Jewish camping, I have rarely missed spending at least one Shabbat per summer at a URJ camp. I can proudly boast having spent Shabbat weekends at Harlam, Eisner, GUCI, Kutz, and finally finding my home, as well as the love of my life, at Greene Family Camp.
I began coming to GFC in the summer of 1999, just weeks after moving to Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX. Immediately, GFC felt familiar and welcoming. From the professional and warm staff to the engaging faculty and the extraordinary camper enthusiasm, GFC exuded much ruach and love. I was instantly enveloped into the GFC family. Aside from the heat—which took some getting used to—I was hooked.
I loved returning to GFC with the San Antonio (SAFTY) youth group for retreats, and for a time as the NFTY-TOR rabbinic advisor. I developed close friendships with advisors from around the region, many of whom I count among my dearest friends to this day.
One advisor from Houston caught my eye at GFC during Spring Kallah in 2000. GFC magic struck again: I met Charlie Vann, whom I became engaged to at GFC in 2001! Charlie, too, has a deep connection to camp, being among the first cohort of campers in 1976, and a long time staff member of GFC.
Since our son, Isaac, was born, he has always known about GFC. He has heard the stories about how his parents met, how his Dad and friends made “trouble,” and so on. He came with me to camp as an infant, a toddler and as a very young child. This summer, Isaac is a first-time Shorashim camper now making his own memories at camp.
So here’s an interesting fact: we no longer live in Texas or Oklahoma. In 2011, we moved from San Antonio to Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood, Ohio. We enjoy living in Cleveland – even with winter – and its’ vibrant and large Jewish population, and being part of a creative and dynamic congregation. Still, we know, though, that even though Cleveland is way more than an “hour north of Austin”, we can’t get lost. We’ll come home, to GFC, every summer.
Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann is rabbi at Suburban Temple Kol Ami in Beachwood, Ohio. She is one of our summer faculty members.