Wingdale University Post-Graduate Dissertation
by Lainee Cohen


Thesis topic: How I Spent My 2008 Memorial Day Weekend

Friday, May 23

I arrived at Camp Ramah at 4:58 PM, which has significance only because Michael requested that we get there between 3:00 and 5:00 PM.  Made it just under the wire!

My first interaction with a stranger at camp was as follows: A guy came over and asked, “Is nothing sacred?”  When he got no reaction from me, he walked away, slightly dejected.  “Well, that came out of left field,” I thought, until someone reminded me that the word Nothing was written on my shirt.  I now humbly offer a belated apology to this clever guy, who must have thought that I’m a complete dimwit.

After shul, we sat at our designated tables for dinner.  Michael assigned tables only for the first evening, which was a very good idea, since it gave us the opportunity to easily meet our fellow campers. Usually the first night at an event forces singles to either deal with the awkwardness of choosing a table of strangers or compels them to avoid the awkwardness altogether and sit with friends, thus appearing unsociable.   

Dinner was followed by social games.  On the back of each of our multi-functional name tags was the name of an animal. We had to act like that particular animal and moo, meow, bray, baaa, etc. until someone figured out what animal we were supposed to be.  Next, we were each given a card with eight qualities.  Find someone who:

1)      sings in a choir
2)      plays the kazoo
3)      has attended a 10-year college reunion
4)      has a last name with four letters (seems tricky but is actually quite easy—most names have at least four letters)
5)      and so on . . .

This was a good way to meet others because we’d have to go around the room until we found eight different people who qualified.  The winner not only found her eight people, but she remembered their names as well. (The latter is even more of an accomplishment, I think.)

For the last game of the evening, volunteers stuck post-it notes on the backs of the campers. These post-it notes had names such as Martha Stewart, Gomez Addams, Fred Astaire, and Fred Flintstone. People had to ask clues to discover “their” identities.  Dick Cheney was an easy one—just arrange your fingers in the shape of a gun and point it at someone’s face. That was usually the only clue necessary.

These games were excellent icebreakers because they were a lighthearted, unobtrusive way to meet new people. Not all crowds I’ve been with would have been willing to participate in such activities, but hats off to our friendly, open-minded group! Afterwards, we schmoozed with our new and old friends over tea and cake.

Saturday, May 24

At the buffet breakfast, another camper and I decided to go to the “McCain Minyan,” the traditional (non-egalitarian) minyan.  A very nice service, though keeping a minyan proved to be a challenge.  Also, I suffered some emotional distress, to be discussed later.

After kiddush, we played volleyball, then went on to lunch and zemirot and (for some of us) the all-important Shabbos nap. 

The 5:00 hike up Ramah Mountain had its sticky moments because we got lost several times.  I didn’t mind because I passed the time listening to jokes, bad-date stories, and ever-fascinating tales of standard deviations. And I took a few moments to wonder exactly who was playing Spin the Bottle back at camp!

Ignoring the tempting sounds of zemirot (the end-of-Shabbos ones, my favorite kind), a fellow hiker and I played a quick game of tennis before dinner.  Yummy dinner, especially the pasta and cheese part.

After a spirited Havdalah, we headed for square dancing, something I’d been looking forward to all day.  It was fun, silly, sociable, occasionally klutzy, and a total joy.

Afterwards, there was singing at the campfire.  A group of us got slightly carried away and sang show tunes, depressing songs (“Poor Judd is Dead” and “Old Man River” qualified as both), and TV theme songs. Actually we sang anything that came to mind (“On Top of Old Smoky,” for instance) and even the obscure songs had several people who knew all of the words.  Ignoring fatigue, we sang till after 2:00 AM.

Sunday, May 25

There’s nothing like the feeling of waking up on way too little sleep to discover that you are both sweaty and cold.  Sweaty from the previous night’s dancing, and cold—well, after all, it is camp!  A nice, hot shower was an incentive to crawl out of my sleeping bag, but then again so was Nia, which was starting in a few minutes.  So I washed up quickly and headed for the dining room. There was a large turnout for so early in the morning (considering the late night many of us crazy kids had), and the class was well worth it.  Nia includes a good mix of yoga, tai chi, and freestyle dancing, and it was an invigorating, enjoyable way to start the day.

Though I had previously decided that I was definitely going to do the hike (Ask the salesperson at Paragon Sporting Goods who helped me choose a pair of convertible hiking pants), I began vacillating and considered spending a mellow day at camp instead.  Suddenly, however, a burst of caffeine entered my bloodstream and voila!, I decided to hike after all.  (It helped that I didn’t feel too full, thanks to someone at my table who had eaten much of my breakfast off my plate!)

There were supposed to be two hiking options, but we instead decided to do just one (West Pawling Appalachian Trail Hike) and have “slow” and “fast” groups. Michael gave us maps and detailed instructions about the hike, and included additional instructions on when to “separate” and when to eat Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies (which I so graciously offered to carry).  I decide to “separate” before the hike and was dismayed to see a large sign saying that this region is known to have ticks that carry Lyme disease.  That’s not the kind of threat one wants to contemplate when in such a vulnerable state.

The hike was enjoyable, long but not too difficult, with pretty views including Nuclear Lake (aka Nucular Lake, according to a certain leader of the free world).  Some of us ate chocolate chip cookies at unprescribed times; others stuck to the rules. 

A fellow hiker and I began discussing the trauma I suffered at the traditional Shabbos service--the pain and suffering I (a Cohen!) endured at not being offered, or even considered, for the Kohayn aliya. To add insult to injury, they gave the honor to a mere Levite instead. Once we found a worthy victim (a lawyer who was also one of the minyan’s organizers), this hiker and I (both of us children of lawyers) painstakingly discussed a lawsuit claiming emotional distress.  To the dismay of the other hikers who were trapped with us, we pontificated for quite awhile, then continued to torture the “defendant” hours later, cutting in on him and his partner while they were dancing. It was a good thing that they were both good-natured.

After a delicious barbeque, we sat down for our group photo.  The agile Michael kept setting up the camera and running up the stairs.  Then he introduced the comedian, a Camp Ramah alumnus, who participated in an engaging repartee with the quick-witted audience. One of my favorite moments was when he mentioned his relatives in New Jersey and thought a camper said she came from Tenafly when she had actually said, “Tell them hi.”

After a shower, I sprinted to the dining room for dancing.  We danced for hours to an eclectic mix of songs, including the Bee Gees’ famous hit, “Bald-Headed Woman.” I heard through the grapevine (one of the songs that we had sung at the campfire) that two gentleman did an impressive “mango” (a male tango, the term immortalized by Steve Guttenberg and Jonathan Roberts in Dancing with the Stars).

Monday, May 26

I again woke up sweaty and cold, a feeling I was becoming accustomed to.  Trying to squeeze in as much activity as possible, I ate breakfast, played tennis, ate breakfast again, and went canoeing. After packing, I reluctantly left the beautiful Berkshires.

Back at home and munching on Freihofer’s, I pondered the amazing time I had at Wingdale University—thanks to the wonderful setting, fabulous weather, superb planning, well-organized and diverse activities, and friendly, down-to-earth crowd.  This is one school that I’d like to flunk out of, because that may mean that I’ll have the opportunity to return again and again.