Summer camps

courtesy of Abraham J. Peck, Maine's Jewish Heritage (Charleston: Acadia, 2007)
courtesy of Abraham J. Peck, Maine's Jewish Heritage (Charleston: Acadia, 2007)

Summer camps were commonplace in Maine, especially during the early 20th century when parents would send their children to Maine in order to experience the fresh air and lower their risk of contracting polio in the cities which they inhabited.  Used as socialization tools, summer camps were mostly single-sexed and were advertised not specifically as Jewish summer camps, but as summer camps in general.  This demonstrated a desire among the Jewish community to further acculturate rather than segregate themselves within society.  At the summer camps, Jewish boys and girls were able to escape from their small communities and meet other Jewish children from different towns.  As a result, many long-term relationships were created between Jewish children from different towns.

Since little thought was given to the idea of the decline of American Jewry and intermarriage in the early 20th century, not much attention was given to fostering “Jewish loyalties” at the summer camps.  Instead, the children were again exposed to genteel activities in an attempt to ease the Eastern European Jewry into American society.

Summer camps also served as quasi-dating scenes.  Since the camps created a new space for children to interact, there were often cases of boys and girls dating within the camp setting and even finding marriage partners.

For more information on the role of summer camp socialization in one Maine native’s life, see David Hurwitz, “How Lucky We Were,” American Jewish History 87.1 (1999): 29-59. Consider as well the following statements by Jews from Waterville.

Robert Hains (b. 1942; interviewed by Jena Hershkowitz):

So, again, there wasn’t a lot of mixing. I was the only one from town who went to Camp Lown.  Lou Chester might have one year, but Harvey Stern went to Camp Lown from Skowhegan, and we were pretty good buddies.  And then I had a couple of summertime buddies of daughters who had moved away but who came home with their children in the summertime.  Compared with being in the Boston area this was heaven, and again less possibility of exposure to polio and if somebody had a car, proximity to the lakes, there were a couple of public beaches where you paid your quarter or your dime or whatever it was and you could go swimming.

Marcia Beckerman (b. 1915) and her son Peter (interviewed by Kimi Kossler):

Peter Beckerman: On Snow Pond there was a boys camp, Cedar Crest, it was a boy’s camp then.  You and your two sisters, did you date counselors from Cedar Crest? Anna did.

Marcia Beckerman: …There was a boys summer camp near ours and they’d come down in their canoes and everything.  And one time she was sitting, and I think it was 6 or 7 anyhow…

Peter Beckerman: She met Jean.

Marcia Beckerman: Yeah.  He came down in a canoe and they got married!

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