As we turned the corner at Leo Carrillo State Beach onto Mulholland Highway, my anticipation was building. This was a road I had traveled so many times before. I counted the mile markers knowing that at mile marker #5 I would see large satellite dishes and the big opening gate into The Shalom Institute, which houses Camp JCA Shalom – my daughter’s home for the last 3 weeks.
We pulled into the driveway, and not only was I flying out of the seat of my pants running towards a reunion that I had been craving for all of these torturous days without her, but I was suddenly energized just to be in that familiar homey setting that had come to mean so much to me in the 15 years since I had first stepped foot into it.
I crossed the bridge into camp, and there was Bill Kaplan, the Shalom Institute’s Executive Director with the big open arms of a bear hug and a huge grin on his face. It seemed so apropos for the moment, as he was the first person who greeted me the very first time I had come to that magical oasis in the Malibu mountains all of those years ago.
I wanted to stay and chat with him, but there was another little person who overshadowed him for that moment. Our son ran ahead and flung himself into her arms. He’s such a tough little guy, but you wouldn’t have known it at that moment. When I finally reached her, our son wasn’t ready to let go, so we shared a group hug that must have been the best hug ever created in the universe. We were together, and that was the best thing ever.
After our initial hellos, our reunions continued – conversations with Bill and camp director, Joel and Assistant camp director, Allison. And then — conversations with the other families from Tucson. There were introductions, too. We met counselors and new friends and were even given a tour of the cabin. “Here’s where I slept, Mom!”
Camp JCA Shalom is such a special place that it was hard pulling ourselves out of there. None of us were ready to leave – including our daughter, who had to pry herself away from her home away from home.
This camp is an old friend, and it is good to know that it is always there waiting for us to return.
My song of the day is “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles, because as we drove back down the mountain, my daughter complained of being car sick. “I’m not used to driving anymore,” she said as she reentered her normal life with camp 2014 behind us. In my opinion, she just wasn’t used to anything that wasn’t camp. It was her “long and winding road” decompressing from an incredible time that I know will be a favorite part of her childhood memories for the rest of her life. I know Camp JCA Shalom will forever be a part of her heart just as it is for anybody who has ever been touched by it. It’s that kind of place.