by Jeff Reisman, Camp Coleman Alum
Camp Coleman comes up a lot in conversation in my life. “What are your kids doing for the summer?” “How did you meet your wife?” “How did you wind up living in Georgia?” Each time this happens, I feel compelled to launch into my family’s “Camp Coleman Story.” One of the best parts of this is how Camp Coleman was and is a family experience, and how it allowed our family to become so intertwined with other families.
For many Colemanites, Camp does not really involve their family, aside from siblings. Parents pack up their children and send them off for weeks at a time. In the past, parents’ knowledge of what went on at camp was usually limited to the brochure, a parent letter from a counselor, and a few camper letters hastily scrawled at rest hour, mostly containing requests for care packages. Technology now gives parents a little window in the camp experience, but not much more.
For my family, however, Camp has always been a family experience. In 1975, my parents wanted to send my brother to Coleman, and he said, “I’ll go if you go with me.” So my father signed up to be camp doctor. I was just a year old. Each summer, my brother and eventually my sister would fly off to camp, and a few weeks later my parents and I would drive up from Miami, enjoy camp for a week or two, and end the summer with a surprise trip on the way home. It became Tradition, a very Jewish concept. For me, having my parents at camp was just a part of camp. As a camper and staff member, it was always exciting to know that at the end of the summer, all or some of my family would be there to share in the joy and happiness of Camp Coleman. My parents joined the Camp Committee, and took active roles in guiding the continuation and development of Coleman.
Along the way, we met other families and became close over the years. At four years old, I befriended Rabbi David Baylinson. I was his “helper,” and each morning after breakfast, he would take my hand and we would go to Shiur. I would hand out papers for him and stay quiet and listen. Over the years, we knew the Baylinson children as campers and staff members. Our relationship with the Baylinson family continues to this day. This is how:
I met Kacie Rothschild at SEFTY camp when we were about 15 years old. Five years later, we met again as RA’s for Camp Jenny (held at Camp Coleman) and began dating. I didn’t realize at the time who her Rabbi was in Montgomery, AL: David Baylinson. I went home with her one weekend, and when I introduced my grown self to the Rabbi, and he found out I was dating another of his favorite kids, he was overjoyed. A few short years later, it was only fitting that he officiated at our wedding, and eventually at our children’s brit milot and baby-namings.
Fast forward to 2013. My two sons are now campers at Coleman, along with my brother’s two sons. Our younger boys are in the same cabin. My brother is a camp doctor. And the family connections continue; my nephew’s counselor, Max Levy, is the grandson of Rabbi David Baylinson. Max’s mother Linda Baylinson Levy was once my sister’s counselor. Max is friends with fellow counselor Elizabeth Zimmerman, my niece from my wife’s side of the family. My parents have made an effort to come up with us on drop-off day, to feel a little Coleman spirit and spend a few hours in this magical place. For our children, Camp Coleman is also a family experience.
As we check the website each day for new pictures, what we see are more than just images on a screen. Like most former campers, we see the whole experience. We feel the red clay under our feet, hear the shouts and laughter and song, and can feel what our kids are doing and the connections of their own they are making, as our past ripples forward into their future.
Camp Coleman is, for us, a family experience and tradition, one that I hope will live on for a long time.