Parents Visiting Day is a time-honored camp tradition. But what about when the camp in question is all of three days?
You can imagine, then, that we were a bit skeptical when ten-year-old Merav insisted that we come up to check out her summer quickie campsite with Israel’s version of the Scouts. Especially since the time allotted to visiting comprised all of two hours. It was a long drive and it wasn’t like she was even going to be away from home long enough for us to start missing her (and vice versa, presumably).
But it had been awhile since we’d been out of Jerusalem, and the promise of some fresh air in the lower Galilee hills sounded promising.
And so it was on a hot Thursday afternoon that my wife Jody, twelve-year-old son Amir, six-year old son Aviv and I took off in the car for the Tzipori Forest where this year’s Jerusalem Scouts were holding their annual "machane kayitz."
As we passed a shopping mall with several restaurants not far from the campsite, Jody remarked that the place seemed quite crowded. When we arrived in the parking lot for the camp, we realized why.
Nearly every parent was carrying a large plastic bag stuffed with fast food: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Pizza Hut. Brand names only.
Some parents came armed with coolers overflowing with a wide assortment of goodies entirely of the junk variety. Apart from a couple of cut up watermelons, there wasn’t a healthy snack in sight.
We, on the other hand, had a Tupperware container full of sliced carrot sticks and a half eaten box of 96%-fat-free organic soy and linseed corn thins.
Guess you have to have been to a few of these Parent Days to learn the ropes. Which was the real point of inviting us, we soon discovered.
As we passed through the security post (the camp was completely fenced in and armed to the teeth with guards), we were confronted with hundreds upon hundreds of intricate wooden sculptures.
Well not exactly sculptures. But scouting projects on a truly massive scale.
There must have been thousands of campers milling about in the woods (there are 60,000 campers nationwide, and this was just the Jerusalem division, remember). Each age group had chosen a theme and constructed a large number of towering structures, makeshift buildings and other highly creative works...all out of thin logs of wood tied together with rope.
Now we understood what Merav meant when she said the Scouts "build their own camp."
The counselors, we learned, had painstakingly planned everything out in meticulous detail during the preceding weeks, using skewers lifted from several local grilled meat restaurants to design tiny models of what were now mind-blowing feats of teenage engineering. The counselors laid everything out and the campers tied the wood together using that standard of scouting worldwide – knot-making.
Merav’s troop had chosen to build an entire world relating to the theme of "Monopoly. Strewn among the sleeping bags and tents I spied a pair of floating wooden dice, a makeshift "railroad station" where presumably you could ride on the Reading Railroad, a large ship that I was told was supposed to resemble one of the game tokens, and a life-size blue and white Community Chest perched on a mound of rocks.
There was even a jail which doubled as the Scout’s synagogue. Before I could remark on the irony of that juxtaposition, Merav came bounding at us, clearly delighted that we had made the trek and eager to show off everything they had done.
Despite the fact she had only been able to nod off for a couple of hours the night before ("the boys kept trying to paint our faces whenever we went to sleep," she reported), she was her usual bundle of enthusiasm and positive energy.
We walked through the campsite to enjoy the Disneyland-like ingenuity on display, passing all manner of construction and creature, from knotted wooden spaceships to giant Ninja Turtles. We passed a spirited volleyball tournament with kids drumming and cheering on their teams from the sidelines.
We also passed all those parents we had seen earlier, now sitting down with their camper children and enjoying their fast food fix.
I noticed Merav checking out our belongings. Her eyes darted around my backpack, Jody’s purse. She was too polite to demand "What, no Big Mac?" But still...
"We didn’t know Merav," I said, not entirely apologetically. Even if I had known, I might not have partaken in this very Israeli indulgence. I remember the rules for Visiting Day at camp last summer in California: no outside food allowed. There was even a special section in the parent’s manual warning against sewing a hidden pouch inside a stuffed animal to smuggle candy inside!
"Did you bring anything to eat?" Merav asked.
"Carrot sticks?" Jody offered.
Merav accepted this feeble token of our love. But there was no time to argue. The loudspeakers were already blaring "all parents must leave. Visiting hours are over."
I thought back to the synagogue/jail.
We hugged Merav and made our way to the car. We wondered if she would sleep tonight. Was there more to build? And...who was going to take it all down?
As we headed back to Jerusalem, I spied the mall we had seen on the way up. I put on my signal and pulled in.
"Hey, where are we going?" twelve-year-old Amir demanded from the back seat. Six-year-old Aviv looked up from his GameBoy.
But I had a plan: I figured if we couldn’t bring fast food to Merav, at least we could do the next best thing...and eat it ourselves.
"So what will it be: McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or...maybe some grilled meat on a skewer?"
For a look at a Jewish girl scout troop in San Francisco, click this link.