White and Jewish at Sleepaway Camp

1935-Hive-Evening-CircleSleep away camp was the very first time I was away from my parents. I was 7 years old the first time I went. The kids from my neighborhood piled onto buses that lined up in front of the Henry Street Settlement. I sat by a window and waved goodbye to my mother and we pulled away.

Looking around I realized I didn’t know many of the kids. For some reason, the kids I did know suddenly pretended they didn’t know me or each other.  There was a sense of paranoia that permeated the bus. I suddenly became aware that I was dressed a bit nicer than the other kids, and so did they.  Suddenly what each of us looked like was going to determine our fate over the course of the two weeks. It was a mixed camp, in that there were all sorts of children there. White, black, pink, yellow- whatever. They were from the Lower East Side and they immediately formed gangs or little groups or tribes or whatever. I was very intimidated so quickly bonded with the few white Jewish kids at the camp and hoped for the best.

One day towards the end of camp we were out on the baseball field getting ready to play. Laura Jones had it out for me that day. She walked over to me and pushed me on the shoulder. Without a pause I shoved her back.  I knew I couldn’t back down in any confrontation at this camp. I had to hold my own. I was my mothers daughter after all.

After a couple of more shoves a counselor broke us up, “Hey you two! Knock it off! We are here to play baseball.” Laura yelled, “Ill get you!” That night, just in case she meant it, I slept with a board as a weapon.

I never went back to that camp. The next summer I went to a much nicer camp, but I got lice. At least I didn’t have sleep with a board in my bed.


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