An adult reminisces on the agonies and the ecstasies of summers at Jewish camps

If I could, there are several times in my life I'd like to repeat.

Summer camp would definitely be at the top of my list. It's sort of ironic, because I was incredibly homesick when I first went to Camp Blue Star at the mere age of 7.

Every day I wound up on the camp director's lap begging to go home. Looking back at the letters I wrote my parents, I don't know how they weren't racked with guilt over what I felt was such a horribly wretched experience.

But because my parents had met at Camp Blue Star and my entire family had attended the North Carolina summer retreat, it seemed I was destined to enjoy a similar fate, whether I wanted to or not.

My mom was only 14 when she met my dad. She had signed up for a canoe safety test at the waterfront and he happened to be the one conducting it. But he had a girlfriend at the time, so she was content simply admiring the handsome 16-year-old from afar.

A couple of years later, my dad was among a group of campers who came into town to visit a friend who just happened to be my mom's cousin. My mother was given the task of setting up each of the boys with friends of hers so that the group could all go out together one night.

In one sneaky move to which I owe my own very existence, she had the guts to set herself up with my father.

But at age 7, boys were still yucky to me and a slumber party was about all the time I could tolerate away from home.

I remember marking off the days until I could return home by drawing large red X's on my calendar next to my bunk bed. I hated having to wear flip-flops in the shower and wake up at the crack of dawn each morning. I had no interest in sports. Basically, to me, camp was like a Jewish juvenile detention center.

Convinced that I would change my mind, my parents insisted on sending me back each year. Now I realize that part of this was due to the fact that they selfishly wanted some time to themselves, and I guess I can't blame them. Plus, their camp experience had been such a positive one, they really felt they were doing me a big favor.

Camp was the only time of year that I came into contact with lots of other Jewish kids. For one month every summer I wasn't the odd man out — everyone kept kosher (at least at camp), everyone went to services on Friday nights, and everyone knew the same Israeli folk dances and Hebrew songs. And as the years went by, I grew to truly consider camp my home away from home.

Somewhere down the line, I developed an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" kind of attitude. I decided that if I absolutely had to be there, I might as well make the best of it.

It also helped that as a teenager, I switched to Camp Judaea, a smaller, more observant camp located down the street from my original haunt. It was a great move and one that had a tremendous influence on my own personal Jewish identity.

At Camp Judaea, we awoke early each morning and gathered next to the Israeli flag to sing "Hatikvah" before breakfast. Sites and activities around camp were referred to by their Hebrew names and a large part of the programming involved Jewish education.

One summer, my unit took a bus trip to New York City to study our Jewish roots, even staying with a Lubavitch family during Shabbat.

Later, I attended Camp Judaea's senior camp, Tel Yehuda, in upstate New York. There I befriended other Jewish kids from across the country. Our shared experiences and friendships formed a unique bond that I'm sure still exists today, even though many of us have since lost touch.

I became so attached to my camp family that it was agonizing to leave them at the end of the summer. Once I returned home, I would rush out to immediately develop my photographs, cry myself to sleep and spend hours on the phone reminiscing with camp friends.

Now I understand why I was shipped off against my will as a first-grader and why someday my own kids will have to endure the same unthinkable torture. The truth is, I would give anything to spend my summer away at camp now, dancing, singing and learning about my heritage amid the safety net of close friends.

But as the saying goes — you really can't go home again.

My camp memories still sneak up on me once in awhile. One day, I was walking to my car after a rain storm and I caught a whiff of that sweet grass-soaked fragrance that lingers after a summer downpour.

And in that instant, I was carried back to those sleepy mornings where I stood shivering in the dewy field at Camp Judaea — standing with my hands folded behind me, singing "Hatikvah."