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Mira and friends at Massad in the 80s

Mira and friends at Massad's 50th anniversary reunion 10 years ago

Lumber jackets!



[Reprinted with permission from Kol Massad, the Camp Massad Alumni Newsletter]

by Mira Sucharov, May 29, 2012

It’s almost summer, which means I’m nostalgic for camp. Though I’m nostalgic for camp even in winter – and spring and fall.  In fact, I was nostalgic for camp even during the 10 summers I spent at Camp Massad on 20 flat prairie acres across the highway from Lake Winnipeg. 

The emotion of nostalgia was highly encouraged at Massad. Those who mourned the excellence of past Maccabiah teams and the originality of past song-rhymes were duly rewarded with silent approval. Though nestled in the zaniness of impromptu dress-up and practical jokes, nostalgia – in all its heady implications -- was a distinctly Massad virtue.

Camp Massad in the 1980s was classic rock, smuggled instant drink crystals, and lumber jackets in three patterns: red and black, green and black, and blue with red. Classic rock was of course not naturally of the 80s, with that decade’s androgynous pop dominating the charts. While Michael Jackson’s moonwalking Thriller accompanied our elementary-school birthday parties, Saturday night’s rikud zar (foreign dance – distinguished from Friday nights’ Israeli circle dancing) at Massad was all Doobie Brothers, The Doors, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Being at camp in the 80s meant experiencing the present by forging links with the past. Being a Massadnik meant memorizing not only your own cabin song and those of all the other cabins of the session, but also those from earlier years. I can still sing the Mechina  song from 1980, though I didn’t attend camp until 1981. While my favourite arucha was 1985’s rakevet– even though it landed me at the Gimli hospital for a tetanus shot after stepping on a rusty nail – I recall my dad’s Queen of Hearts arucha of 1966 (or was it 1967?) as if those backdrops and costumes were my own.

My first Massad summer, at a solemn age nine, saw me penning a letter home saying, “Here I am at Camp Massad, following in my father’s footsteps.” (Nuance and irony would come to me much later.) My cabin song that summer was to the tune of Cat Stevens’ Moon Shadow. “Arba banot tze’irot vechamudot, yaldei yareach – “four cute, young girls…moonchildren,” our counselors, Gayle and Rhonda, sang to their four proxy kids from River Heights. 
Twenty-three years later I soothed my infant daughter to those Hebrew lyrics, hoping to instill a bit of her mother’s Manitoba memories in her tiny collective self. At age 10, Greased Lightning, and at age 11, Heartbreak Hotel. And so it went. 

The 10 months sandwiched between camp summers were devoted to devising lists of the ultimate song tunes, team names, and Maccabiah hatzagah ideas, each intended to honour -- by hopefully surpassing but rarely succeeding –the creative offerings of the past. A coveted afternoon at camp was one spent transcribing song lyrics onto Gestetner stencils, a job that allowed a leisurely perusing of the “files” – that dog-eared evidence of old cabin songs, play scripts, and names of Maccabiah teams, players and judges dating back to the camp’s founding in 1953.

During my first year as a counselor, no sooner had I settled into my sheet-doored room, than I glanced at the wooden cabin wall, only to see my father’s name graffittied in capital letters, along with the 13 years he attended – 1957 being conspicuously absent for it being the one summer my Babba Rosie inexplicably forbade him to go. (The next year he used his Bar Mitzvah gift money to help pay his way.) A proud legacy annual attendance was for Massadniks.

Of course, camp also brought my first kiss (behind the refet), my first playing of an all-Hebrew Tom Sawyer and Lady Macbeth, my first musical arrangement, my first co-ed hairwashing, my first game of Hearts, my first macramé, my first use of the Yiddish term kenahora, my first lost voice, my first installing of stage lights, my first time climbing scaffolding, my first thimble of Manischewitz wine, my first all-nighter – writing the plays and songs that would prefigure academic essays years later, and the memorization of almost all the verses to Don McLean’s American Pie. And lots and lots of nostalgia.

While societies can encourage nostalgia to shore up political identity, at Massad we were unabashedly wistful for bygone times. Armed with permanent markers, we proudly declared our presence across the yellow walls of the ulam ben tzvi to note our personal part in a lineage of Hebrew-loving campers enjoying each summer as if it were their last. 

Mira Sucharov is currently writing a book on nostalgia and politics.

Camp Massad is celebrating its 60th anniversary with an on-site Alumni Reunion, August 24-26, 2012. Register  at  or email [email protected] for further information.

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