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By Walter D. Levy
"Where are the clams?" I asked.
In 1952, my parents, Jack and Gertrude Levy, sent me to Tel Noar, a Jewish overnight camp in Hampstead, NH.
Even though I was only in elementary school at the time, I remember how excited I was by the prospect of living away from home for a month. I also think my parents wanted to give me the chance to get away from our third-floor Boston apartment and to provide me with opportunity to be part of a Jewish cultural experience.
When I arrived at Tel Noar, I immediately enjoyed the camp’s country atmosphere. This was a far cry from the brick, mortar and asphalt of my inner-city Dorchester-Mattapan neighborhood.
I recall that I was assigned to an age-group that were called in Hebrew, habonim (the builders). Below us were a group called the neetzaneem.
I do remember that going to overnight camp as a 9-year-old proved quite an adjustment. For one, I couldn’t sleep. You might think it was because I shared a cabin with noisy bunk-mates, but it had nothing to do with them. Back in Dorchester-Mattapan I had lived on busy Morton St. (made noisier during the summer because it was then the main route out of Boston to Cape Cod). I had become so used to all the traffic – well, now, in New Hampshire -- it was too quiet.
Speaking of sleeping, one of the things I had trouble adjusting to was making "hospital corners". I believe I had mastered the task toward the end of my camp stay. Yet, as I think back, I had a wonderful time. There was so much to do. I recall that we had swimming twice a day. There was also softball, archery, arts and crafts, music, theater and Israeli dance.
I can vividly remember dancing the hora and singing the mayim (water) song. And, oh yes, David Melech Yisrael.
Well, there were also Friday evening and Saturday morning services. I recall that during Friday evening services we had to wear white ducks.
About two weeks after we arrived, we had a Maccabiah. There was competition in just about everything: track, archery, swimming and a host of others.
Yet, for all the wonderful things that happened during that summer of 1952, I shall always remember my most embarrassing moment. I recall we had just sat down for the evening meal. I remember that the one of our counselors had led us in saying the motzi. Then our waiters came by and brought us our first course. I remember that it looked like clam chowder (I might mention that my mishpohcheh never brought traif into our house, but I had eaten traif in Chinese restaurants and also a lobster dinner with clam chowder at a seafood place).
Well, I remember tasting the soup. I noticed that there were no clams. I remember saying to our waiter, "Where are the clams?" Well, our waiter looked at me like I was some kind of apikoyres. Had my mother been there, she would have said, "Traifener kop!"
Seconds later, our waiter said that Tel Noar keeps strictly kosher. He then went on to say: "This is corn chowder." I felt like a complete fool. At that moment, I wanted to: arunterkrikhn unter ehn shteyn ["crawl under a rock"].
Well, years later, when my two children were old enough to be campers, my wife and I sent them to Tel Noar. I remember my daughter asking me if I had any advice for her as she began her camping experience. I remember saying, "Sheryl, have a great time and, oh by the way, if they serve corn chowder, don’t make the mistake of asking, "Where are the clams?"
from the February 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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