My friend Brian spent his entire seventh grade summer practicing at a basketball camp. When he returned in the Fall it was clear his jump shot had vastly improved.
Similarly, Gary had gone to space camp and was way ahead of us when it came to astronomy and physics.
I went to Jewish sleep away camp that year and learned to french kiss.
Indeed, though Gary had spent the past ten weeks involved in athletics it was I who had rounded first base.
To be clear, I had kissed a girl before.
Literally ‘a’ girl.
It was the result of an embarrassing game of truth or dare at a non parentally supervised graduation party I’d been to in the spring.
But what separated that encounter from the one I’d experience later that summer was the european quality of the smooch.
Her name was Jen.
We met after morning prayers on the ropes course.
As part of trust building exercise we were instructed to fall into one another’s arms, taking turns catching and being caught.
I was smitten.
As was the protocol I had my bunkmate Jared ask her friend Michelle if she wanted to be my girlfriend at lunch.
By free time that afternoon, we were an item.
This meant she was to sit in my lap while we hung out with her friends on the hill.
There we sat, saying nothing to each other while kids ate the junk food their parents sent carefully hidden in care packages.
I had only had one girlfriend before that point, but this was the first one I had ever actually touched.
The first female I had put my arm around that wasn’t related to me.
That night, after activities, I took her for a walk near the amphitheater.
It was common knowledge that this is where people went to ‘french’ and we both knew it.
I remembered the ‘birds and the bees’ conversation my father and I had earlier that summer regarding technique:
‘You must explore every area of the woman’s mouth with your tongue’.
Like most of his bad advice, it was well intentioned.
It was messier than I had anticipated.
Much more technical.
I’d imagined two puzzle pieces coming together to form a beautiful picture.
This was more like two anteaters frantically mashing noses together.
Somehow it seemed more American than French.
But I wasn’t complaining.
As far as I was concerned this was a girl who once an evening allowed me to put my tongue in her mouth and for a thirteen year old boy that was good enough.
The rest of the summer went on like this.
Make no mistake, Jewish Camp lived up to its name.
We ate kosher food, prayed three times a day and communed with nature in the hills of Ojai.
It was both ‘Jewish’ and a ‘Camp.’
But what it was really about for me was an experience beyond words.