What have you been doing this summer? Many people have been traveling. I know that from the photos we’ve received showing smiling readers holding copies of The Jewish Voice. We love those photos!
I did many things during July, including taking a short beach vacation, organizing some parts of my home office and simply relaxing in my backyard. But my favorite part of our whole summer break was the day I visited Camp JORI, in Wakefield.
JORI’s “off-season” office is right down the hall from The Voice’s office at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center. For months during the off-season, camp Director Ricky Kodner and Assistant Director Aaron Guttin reminded me that I was welcome to spend some time at the Alliance-affiliated camp.
I’m a strong proponent of summer camp. As a child, I attended camp for many summers, including five at a sleepaway camp in Maine. That was a transformative time for me: editing the camp newspaper led me to my chosen profession.
In this summer of weather extremes, including heavy rain and blistering heat, my day at JORI was perfect – a blue sky, warm enough, but not hot. There was even a nice breeze during the heat of the afternoon.
I already knew the history of JORI, which began its life in Narragansett as the summer retreat for children from the Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island – JORI. The orphanage, on Summit Avenue in Providence, eventually closed, but the camp lived on. In 2003, JORI moved to its current location in Wakefield.
The co-ed camp for children in grades K-10 sits on 72 acres. The bunks are in a large oval, girls on one side, boys on the other. The LIT (Leader-in-Training) program for ninth- and tenth-graders has its own cluster of cabins.
There’s a beautiful waterfront on Worden’s Pond. The day I visited, I learned about the emphasis on success and safety for campers from Howie Labitt, who has directed the waterfront program for 14 years. Campers can sail, canoe, kayak and fish, gradually learning more skills and becoming more independent on the water.
I have to admit, I’m not much of a water sports enthusiast, but Labitt’s enthusiasm is infectious.
In fact, there is abundant enthusiasm at Camp JORI. Assistant Director of Outreach and Engagement Sharon Sock spent several hours showing me around – the bunks, the fields, the pool, the preparations for the next drama production. I then ate lunch with the whole camp, where I got an enthusiastic welcome in song.
I learned that JORI, like the camps I’d attended, has a whole host of traditions. For example, all those wooden signs displayed in the art cabin are from years and years of bunk groups making name signs each summer. And, as a Jewish summer camp, there are Shabbat traditions of Friday dinner, Saturday events and a Havdalah campfire. In addition, JORI hosts a number of Israeli counselors and the Alliance’s Israeli emissary spends the summer at the camp, helping with programming about Israel.
Spending time at Camp JORI made me a bit nostalgic for my own summer camp days. I’ll never forget falling asleep to all those outdoor night sounds. I still look back fondly on those camp drama productions and the end-of-camp banquet. Those traditions are something a camper will never forget.