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'CAMP CAMP' TAKES a look at summer camps in the Sullivan County area, focusing on the generation of kids who came of age away from home.

County plays prominent role in new camp book

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — July 4, 2008 — They came in droves summer after summer, a generation of kids coming of age away from home.
Now the camps that shaped the likes of the MTV Networks President Doug Herzog, Discovery Channel show host Josh Bernstein and thousands of other kids from the ’70s and ’80s have been immortalized in print.
Gracing the cover of the book that hit shelves nationwide last month is Sullivan County’s own Camp Sequoia – the now-defunct Rock Hill camp that still draws alumni to a gather at the Meadowlands for a yearly tailgating party at the preseason Jets/Giants face-off.
“Camp Camp,” published by Crown Publishing, an imprint of Random House, is filled with pictures and stories from campers who spent their formative summers at dozens of sleep-away spots around the Catskills.
Actress Rachel Cohen sent in a copy of the old “purity tests” the kids passed around Camp Tel Yehudah in Barryville in the mid-’80s and related the fateful night a rainstorm that turned the production of Elie Weisel’s “Dawn” into a comedic disaster.
“The book is about the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. Heavy stuff,” Cohen recalled. “The grand finale of our performance was the entire cast singing ‘Goodnight Saigon,’ the [Billy] Joel song that opens with the sound of whirling helicopter blades. By then, rain was seeping through the scenery. We were singing away on stage in our Holocaust outfits laughing, aware we had just turned this most somber of books into a comedy.”
Fellow camper Mik Moore, now the director of communications and public policy at Jewish Funds for Justice in New York City, related his memories of the intercampus basketball rivalries at Tel Yehudah – and the year a kid from Argentina joined his team to help take them “over the top… out of nowhere.”
The rest of the time at camp was spent singing, Moore said. Singing or dancing.
And when kids from New York brought Public Enemy and Heavy D, a girl from Seattle brought Sir-Mix-a-Lot and a kid from Chicago brought his “house sound,” rap started to spread.
“It is one of the great untold stories: the role Jewish summer camp played in the spread of rap music to the suburbs of America,” Moore said.
Some of the area’s operating camps get their 15 minutes too.
Scott Rothschild’s photo of football great Herschel Walker’s visit to his camp in 1989 came straight from Monticello’s Camp Kennybrook, while a number of former campers and counselors at Camp French Woods sent their memories to book editors Roger Bennett and Jules Shell.
Camper Katie Schumacher sent a plea from Hancock – “Dear Mom, Please pick me up from camp tomorrow. I’m so homesick. By (sic) please pick me up!”
But life got better – she found silk screening.
“When I was really homesick, I could go to Arts and Crafts and sob and still accomplish something!” the Short Hills, NJ mom recalled.
French Woods owner Ron Schaefer finished reading “Camp Camp” just in time to open his facility for its 39th season.
“The book is great,” he said. “Camp has been a very important factor in so many people’s lives.
“The camaraderie, the friendships made… you can’t recreate that opportunity anywhere else,” he said. “Not to mention the sense of self-assuredness children are able to get by going away to camp.”
They feel free leaving their parents and going it on their own for a summer, but they’re still in a safe haven, Schaefer said – that’s the beauty of the camp experience.
In fact, Bennett and Shell call their ode to camp “Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies” because of the insulated environment formed in rural locales away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
An English college student who earned a trip to America at 19 to work as a counselor at a camp in Maine, Bennett said he found an incredible “compressed universe” where kids were learning life skills and coming of age.
When the duo finished their “Bar Mitzvah Disco,” a book published in 2005, they found a natural sequel.
“Bar mitzvahs are sort of a fake ceremony in which a child becomes an adult in the Jewish faith,” Bennett said. “Camp is the place where so many people came of age –  over 80,000, a vast nation of young Americans who are now successful lawyers, doctors, what have you, still dreaming of color war.
“It’s the perfect prism through which to look at the culture of the ’70s and ’80s of America,” he continued.
As a Brit with only a summer’s taste of camp life, he treats the subject with reverence but allows himself a bit of space – making space in the book for the good, the bad and the incredibly geeky.
Case in point – the book’s cover.
Kevin “Bird” Harrison has devoted a blog to each time his young mug – dressed in an over-sized Camp Sequoia t-shirt with one athletic sock drooping and glasses that dominate his face – makes it into national press for the book.
The account executive for a sunglasses manufacturer is now married with a daughter and will always remember the fatal mistake of going to sleep in the boys’ bunk.
“You could wake up in the middle of the lake with your bed balanced in kayaks, or be induced into the act of wetting yourself by having your hands dipped in a bucket of water,” he says. “But the boys’ bunk was also a place of radical inclusion. Amid the peculiar stench of wet towels, Deep Heat, Hai Karate aftershave and pine sap that hung heavily, there was much that brought the bunkmates together.”
With a foreword by “Meatballs” director Ivan Reitman and the stories and pictures of what was really going on inside the forests of the Catskills and beyond, “Camp Camp” isn’t just a love letter to camp.
It’s a campers’ love letter to the places that made them who they are. Places like Sullivan County.

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