This past weekend we went camping. It was our third annual outing with several other families, all Jewish, most kosher, and some of whom have been doing this for about 6/7 years. And when I tell people where we’re off to, I often get a head tilt with a question: “Jews camp?”
I grew up in a camping family. I didn’t even know it was a stereotype for Jews to call staying at the Holiday Inn camping – for us, the Holiday Inn was fancy.
When I was 13, we went on our most extensive camping trip: two weeks through the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stayed at a lot of KOA campgrounds, some with electric hookup so I could plug in my curling iron (I needed to look good for the raccoons). We had a tent and a cargo van in which my father had constructed a platform bed (another stereotype busted: my Jewish dad was mechanical and handy). It was supposed to be that my parents slept in the van and the girls would take the tent, but I think that lasted two nights. Maybe one. We slept in the van, and pushed my parents into the tent.
We cooked on a Coleman stove, hiked, showered in public restrooms where hot water was 25 cents for five minutes (freezing cold water was free), hiked some more, had to walk a quarter mile with a flashlight for the bathrooms at night (and remember our way back to our site), and stopped at every scenic overlook on the side of the highway until we begged my father to keep going. On Shabbat we put the candles on a flat rock, and made due with burger rolls instead of challah.
One day during that trip it poured, and we gave up trying to camp and stayed in a motel. For fun that evening we went to the movies; we saw Ghostbusters. My sisters and I still don’t know which was funnier, the movie or watching my father almost slide off his seat laughing at the movie.
Another night (maybe was it the next one?) all the wood seemed to be damp. My dad tried to start a campfire, then gave up and said we’d use the Coleman to cook. I
begged pleaded asked if I could try to start the fire. It took me a long time, but I finally did it. My dad was never effusive with praise, but I knew he was proud of my pyromania and my perseverance.
This past weekend, with six other families, was also a wet one. We got to Jellystone Park on Friday at lunch time, and it was a good thing we went swimming in the afternoon because it was our only clear day. As the manly man dads were cooking Shabbos dinner over the fire pits, I asked one of the kids to find a flat rock. It was a little touch, as another friend had brought candlesticks, but it meant a lot to me.
At Jellystone we stay in cabins with beds, not in tents. And yes, as an adult I prefer to stay in cabins with beds, not in tents. I’ve was eaten alive by mosquitos camping on Fire Island at age 23. I tent camped in the pouring rain with two toddlers sleeping on my chest at age 31. Two summers ago I lay awake listening to the
bear wolf opossum chewing a rabbit mouse empty juice box just on the other side of the canvas from me. That was my last tent trip. I’ve done my time. DB wants to go tent camping again, but I’m just fine now that I’ve discovered that I can have my campfire and private bathroom, too. I really don’t miss putting up or taking down a tent at all. I certainly don’t miss sleeping on the ground.
Oh, and Saturday night, when all the wood was wet, one of the manly men stacked up a beautiful set of twigs and logs, then made me cringe when he poured lighter fluid all over it and lit it. Nuh uh. I lovingly searched out dry timber (hiding just under the cabins) and lit it in the second fire pit, and kept it going with no accelerants — although the men tried to argue that the match had been an accelerant. Our “women’s fire” (no men were allowed to help) may have taken a long while to get going, but it made me, and my dad, proud.