HELLO MUDDAH, HELLO FADDAH: Notes from Camp Saratoga

July 18, 2023
by Megan Scauri

Some of the greatest gems in the American Jewish Historical Society archive are our small collections that provide a window into a specific time and place, a particular person’s (or people’s) lived experience, or just a sliver of information on a particular institution. When we look at these materials, we are often struck at the universality of the human experience, whether it’s a mother writing to her son or a ledger keeping track of expenses – we can find analogues in our modern life.

As many send their kiddos off to camp this summer, whether for the first or fifth time, we’re reminded that this ritual has been going on for many years now, and campers in the 1960s aren’t too different from campers today (give or take a cell phone). The Judith Endelman Collection on Summer Camp, 1956-1968, (P-987) is a small collection, only half a box, but we can imagine bygone summers in all the small details. The collection is made up primarily of newsletters, yearbooks, and fundraising ads for summer camps in California in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily Camp Saratoga. The National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and their regional affiliate, The Central Area Federation of Temple Youth (CAFTY), sponsored Camp Saratoga during the 1950s and 1960s. Located in Santa Clara County, California, Camp Saratoga provided education and entertainment for Jewish youth during the summer months. Also known as Camp Swig, the facility continues to operate in conjunction with the Union for Reform Judaism.

The newsletters contain inside jokes gently ribbing individual campers, tips for keeping the flies away, a mock obituary for a mouse, editorials on current events, as well as “housekeeping” notices, prayers, and song lyrics. Judy Epstein, as she was then known, collected these materials during her time as a counselor at Camp Saratoga and a youth leader in NIFTY and CAFTY. We even have her Handbook for Camp Counselors from 1956!