By Caryn Roman, A Kutz Alumna
Growing up as the daughter of a camp-loving Reform rabbi had its perks, especially in the summer. Beginning when I was four, each year my father would pack the car with our summer clothes, books, toys, and a guitar, and we would make the 500-plus mile drive to Warwick, NY. Our road trip rituals were just as important as those that took place once we arrived at camp — favorite rest stops, sing-along soundtracks (first on cassettes, then eventually CDs), car games, and more. At the end of the trip, we would turn left onto the Warwick Turnpike, then up the hill past the drive-in movie theater(now the only one still operating in New York State). I would excitedly glue my entire body to the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Kutz Camp’s red-roofed buildings among the treetops as we approached Bowen Road. From that young age, I understood: Kutz was home, as much — maybe even more so — as the places I lived the rest of the year. I knew that the world under those red roofs and amidst those willow trees was one of friendship, song, and unconditional love, and I couldn’t wait to get back.
My relationship with Kutz and its perpetually rotating cadre of staff, clergy, artists, musicians, and participants now spans more than 25 years. I sat in the Teyatron on summer Shabbatot as a “Fac Brat,” then program participant, and eventually as summer staff member — in turn, AdStaff, RA (resident advisor), day camp assistant director, program director, and songleader. In 2008, I became a full-time Kutz employee, first as Assistant Director, then Manager of Operations and Development, and finally Manager of Development and Alumni Relations for Kutz and NFTY. Every space within camp’s 87 acres teems with memories. In these spots, I recall moments of transcendent joy, of soul-crushing despair, and of everything in-between. I can see myself learning, playing, singing, working, talking, struggling, teaching, and walking. I can see myself growing.
I remember being five or six, standing on stage in the Teyatron with my fellow “Fac Brats,” our parents, and the rest of the summer staff. It was the session’s staff and faculty talent show, and the group had prepared a closing number parodying Bob Denver’s “Country Road.” The chorus, which echoes in my head each time I drive up to Kutz’s gate, went:
Take me home, Bowen Road
To the place, where I belong
Here in Warwick, Back at Kutz Camp
Take me home, Bowen Road.
I’ve spent the last few summers away from camp, as most adults do. I’ve worked and traveled and enjoyed New York City’s summertime concerts, outdoor movies, and rooftop bars; I’ve even visited camp once or twice. But this summer, in the midst of a personal and professional transition, I decided to come home. Not to relive past experiences or to attempt to go backward in time, but to ground myself to move forward. Because home is where you go to reconnect with your most authentic self, and that’s who I’m looking for.
Last Friday, driving down the Warwick Turnpike just before Shabbat, I felt that old familiar flutter of childhood excitement. The roofs aren’t red anymore, and a few of the willow trees are gone, but 46 Bowen Road will always be my home.
Caryn Roman is a freelance Jewish educator and communal professional in New York City. She is spending this summer at Kutz as a nanny for members of the current generation of “Fac Brats.”