Fifty years later, former Ramah bunkmates still ‘click’

Fifty years later, former Ramah bunkmates still ‘click’

Alumnae meet the 2009 campers. Reisbaum is standing far left, back row. Farber is back row fourth from right.

What would it be like to reconnect with camp friends you haven’t seen for more than 50 years?

For local residents Molla Reisbaum and Gail Farber, the experience has been “thrilling.”

The two women – and the 10 other alumnae of Camp Ramah in the Poconos who have reunited to rekindle old friendships and swap recollections – say the experience is all the sweeter now that the women are in their 70s.

Farber, who moved to Tenafly several years ago, suggested that age “is part of the reason the reunions have worked.”

“Some of what is happening is because of where we are in our lives,” she said. While specific memories may be vague, “we’re forging new relationships in a comfortable environment. There’s a comfort zone. We’re enjoying the opportunity to meet at a certain stage” of our lives.

The group came together on Aug. 4 at the camp in Lake Como, Pa., asking only that they be allowed to walk around the camp, speak with the campers, and be furnished with camp T-shirts.

“We got the red carpet treatment,” said the two women, noting that the camp was “very welcoming.”

“We were treated like stars,” said Reisbaum, who lives in Wayne.

The campers were both friendly and attentive, she said, displaying awe – and relief – that there was “life after Ramah” and that former campers could remain friends after so many years. Some of the campers “burst into tears,” she added.

Suggesting that “today’s campers are prettier, more sophisticated, and more articulate than we were,” Reisbaum described how the alumnae – and their T-shirts – later created a stir at a New York restaurant.

“We wore T-shirts with the Hebrew word for ‘staff’ on the back and the camp’s 60th anniversary logo on the front,” she said. “We all sat together in our shirts at a restaurant in Glen Spey and a diner began to stare.”

“We were out of context,” she explained, noting that the diner was an Israeli woman who was surprised to see Hebrew there.

Describing how the unofficial camp reunion came about, Reisbaum said that a friendship between bunkmate Gita Segal Rotenberg and Reisbaum’s brother, both of Toronto, may have led to Rotenberg’s sudden desire, at age 71, to find other women with whom she went to camp.

Finding Farber, then living in Philadelphia, through the Internet, she suggested a meeting in New York “which turned into a five-hour lunch,” said Farber, after which “we decided to pursue it further.”

That lunch led to a March reunion of 12 former campers, and later to the Aug. 4 camp event for the members of Bunk 19 (although, added Reisbaum, the 10 women gathered there that day did not all live in that bunk at the same time). In addition, the women have begun meeting informally and renewing friendships.

Reisbaum, who attended the camp from 1950 through 1953, was there when it first opened, she said. Farber was a camper until 1955, when she graduated from high school.

Bunk 19 reunites after more than 50 years. Reisbaum is at far left.

The two women agreed that the camp looks different today, with many new facilities and resources.

“We had sports, classes, and the lake,” recalled Farber. Now, she said, campers have a pool as well as modern facilities for activities such as woodworking and arts and crafts.

Both had fond memories of plays performed entirely in Hebrew.

“I remember being amazed that the plays were translated by counselors,” said Reisbaum.

“I remember the ‘Wizard of Oz,'” said Farber, recalling that her then boyfriend performed in that production.

She remembered also that to pass her canoe test, she had to sing “Hatikvah” under an overturned canoe.

Reisbaum expressed some disappointment that her name, etched somehow into the walls of Bunk 3, where she had spent one summer, had been covered by plywood. Bunk 19 itself no longer exists.

“It was a different time,” said Reisbaum, “post-war, the beginning of the State of Israel. There was much more Hebrew; it was very Zionist.”

According to Farber, the Bunk 19 alumnae who attended the reunion came mostly from New York and New Jersey, although one came from Toronto and one from Florida. About half are widows.

“I could recognize some,” said Reisbaum, “but not all.” She pointed out that the former campers reflect a diversity of interests, lifestyles, careers, and levels of Jewish observance, “from Orthodox to atheist.”

Still, she added, “I was not disappointed. In fact, I was overwhelmingly impressed by our accomplishments – teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers – we’re a remarkable group.”

“We’ve been asking ourselves why we turned out to like each other so much,” said Farber, “why we clicked.”

“We think it was because of our parents’ motivation,” she said, explaining that the decision to send their children to that particular camp reflected “some commonality of child-rearing. We were pre-selected.”

“If we met now, 50 years later, in some other way – a book group, for example – it would have taken longer to get connected,” said Reisbaum. “But now we were able to pick up where we left off, like we’ve been together forever.”

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