Camp Tevya: A Lifelong Love

  • When I heard that FOX Channel’s The Mindy Project was going to air an episode about the main character’s first kiss at a Jewish summer camp, I was a little nervous. When I share how important camp is in creating lifetime memories, I talk about making best friends, learning to sail, feeling the Ruach of Shabbat, and belonging to a community. Experiencing a first kiss is usually not something that I talk to parents about. As I was sharing my anticipation of the upcoming show with Ellen Silberman, who co-chairs our alumni group along with her husband Joel, we started talking about the many “Tevya Couples,” campers and counselors who met at Camp Tevya and remained in relationships. This television show inspired us – what a great opportunity to talk to those couples!

    In this post, Ellen, who met Joel at camp, shares the stories of those who found love at camp.

    Joel Silberman and Ellen Yesley Silberman, Summer 1977

    Joel Silberman and Ellen Yesley Silberman, Summer 1977

    My poor parents…they had come to pick me up at the end of my Birya summer (my last summer as a camper) and I wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted the summer to go on and on so that I could continue the romance of my life. That summer of 1977 was when I met Joel, and it was love, or at least love according to a 14-year-old. What no one truly believed is that “my Birya boyfriend” would become my long-distance college boyfriend, and then my husband six weeks after graduating from college. We have been together for 36 years, married for 28. We are truly lucky that our connection to Tevya has continued as our three sons have all been Tevya campers and counselors, though no long-term romances from camp have emerged for them…..yet!

    What is it about summer romance that is, at a minimum, just “summer love,” but in more cases than you would think, the beginning of a lifelong love affair? Tevya not only helps foster lifelong friendships, but there are many of us known as “Tevya couples.” It is not that strange if you think about it. We all go to camp because we love it, and we love the individuals we can be when we are there. We share a Jewish background (most of the time), and we share common interests, especially if we go back summer after summer. Summer camp affords us the opportunity to be who we are without the pressures of school, extracurricular activities, and even our parents. We can explore new activities, as well as new friendships, and in many cases, lifelong love.

    I surveyed 31 Tevya couples (and suspect there are many more out there) to find out what remains special to them about camp and how we would know they were a Tevya couple. Most couples surveyed met as counselors, though one couple reported that he was in Tel Chai (entering 10th grade) and she was in Kinneret (entering 9th grade). One couple has been together for 43 years, while the shortest relationship has been eight years, though the seeds were planted for that relationship when Matt was in Tel Chai and his now wife, Danyael, was his Queen! Fredda and Bob Zaiger not only met at camp, but one of their two Tevya daughters married a Tevya boy, making them a second generation Tevya couple.

    It seems that we all have “Tevya houses” – that is, we all can name numerous items in our homes that show our Tevya spirit, from pictures of a sunset over Lake Potanipo, to photographs taken of us together at camp. Leah Zaiger Schwartz reported that she and her husband Dan have Super Camp Cleanups, calling “Dustpan!” across the house. Loryn and Barnet Cohen have a Tevya kippah on their Ketubah, while Joel and I have eight coffee mugs, each emblazoned with a picture of our whole family at a visiting day each year that all three boys were at camp together. When Joel and I renovated our kitchen, we made sure to install “Winston” as the kitchen faucet, a holdover from Joel’s days working in the Tevya kitchen. All of the couples surveyed met “pre social media” times, and we kept in touch with long distance phone calls, occasional visits during the year, and the promise of summers together. Though many have children still too young for camp, they all say that Tevya will be their children’s future summer homes.

    We all remember our first kiss, we all remember our first love, and we all remember Tevya. Isn’t it sweet that for many of us, they are all the same?

    Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your story. I look forward to watching The Mindy Project on Tuesday, February 26th at 9:30 pm on FOX. I know this episode will have our Tevya couples looking for the Riviera in the background!

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