By Michelle Oakley, Alum
Jeff and I met in June 2008, at La Hacienda family restaurant in bustling, downtown Arlington. My ten year old Honda Civic was fully packed with all my belongings including a kayak strapped to the roof of my car. I was about to start my position as Adventure Director at Kalsman and this would be my first time meeting the rest of senior staff and the Israeli staff for the summer. I did not know a single person except for David, and I had never been to sleepaway camp before–either as a camper or a counselor. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Later that summer, Jeff told me that his interest in me started when he saw me drive away from the restaurant with that kayak on my car.
Jeff and I quickly became friends at camp. He was the Head Counselor and was responsible for scheduling all the counselors. We helped each other with everything, and covered for each other when one of us needed a break. I remember my first overnight trip with a group, and I forgot the camp stove. I tried to boil a huge pot of water over a (very pathetic) open fire that wouldn’t catch because the wood was too damp. When I finally radioed down to camp at 8:00pm to say that we still hadn’t eaten dinner, Jeff and David immediately came up the hill with a stove to help me out. I was so embarrassed that my first trip had been such a disaster, but Jeff was so supportive and never made me feel bad.
One of my favorite memories of Jeff at camp was when he accidentally gave both counselors who ran the Cheerleading Chug the same evening off. Without an instructor available, Jeff stepped up and ran the chug that afternoon. He learned the cheerleading routine the campers were working on, and even participated in presenting the routine to the rest of the group. The campers, initially upset that their counselors wouldn’t be there, loved teaching Jeff the routine and were so proud of his accomplishments in such a short time.
As the summer passed, Jeff and I grew closer and started dating. I had gone home for the weekend for my sister’s wedding and Jeff picked me up from the airport when I returned. I knew he was going to pick me up, but I didn’t know that he planned out an entire afternoon for us to spend together before heading back to camp. He put two kayaks on his car and packed us a picnic lunch. We drove to Mercer Slough and spent the afternoon paddling, picking blackberries, and watching the herons and kingfishers. We sat on the beach of Lake Washington and talked about the future–it seemed crazy to start a relationship. Jeff was about to move to the east coast while I planned to stay in Seattle to complete my final year of grad school. There were two weeks of camp left. It was the first time both of us admitted how much we liked each other.
We decided to give the long distance relationship a try. As with any relationship made at camp (friendship or otherwise), it was hard to adjust to life on the outside. At camp, every day feels like a week and you forget that the outside world exists. Suddenly, we had to make-do with phone calls and visits every few months. We had to fit our relationship into our school and work lives. But it worked out! After I graduated, we settled on the east coast. We got married in 2011 and lived for 11 years in NYC. Now we are back on the west coast with three kids of our own–a 9-year-old boy and 7-year-old twin girls. This summer, our twins will be attending Kalsman for the first time!
Although I only spent one summer at camp (Jeff spent two), Kalsman had a profound impact on my life. It was the first time I was surrounded by Jewish people. I made wonderful friends, met my husband, and saw how Judaism could fit into my life. Every time I drive to camp and see La Hacienda, I am flooded with memories of that summer. Whenever Jeff and I go to camp with our family, we feel a lightness about us. We can forget about work and chores and packed schedules. We can return to our younger selves and remember who we were and how we started.