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Off to summer camp, girls walk in grandma’s footsteps
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Off to summer camp, girls walk in grandma’s footsteps

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Frances, right, and Margot Levy are following in their grandmother’s footsteps, attending Camp Galil in Bucks County this summer. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg
Frances, right, and Margot Levy are following in their grandmother’s footsteps, attending Camp Galil in Bucks County this summer. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg

When Frances Levy, 10, of South Orange arrived at Camp Galil in Bucks County July 27, she was following in her grandmother’s footsteps.

Michele Levy, of Allentown, Pa., attended the Habonim Dror-affiliated camp in the early 1950s after escaping the Holocaust with her family.

“It was like coming home. I was so happy. I think Camp Galil made me the Jew I am today,” Levy said in a telephone interview.

Neither of her two sons attended sleep-away camp. But Frances, now 10 and the oldest of the four children of Erik and Barbra Levy, began lobbying her parents to go to overnight camp. And her grandmother, who hadn’t heard anything about Galil in all the intervening years, noticed an advertisement for the camp in her local Jewish newspaper, Hakol: The Voice of the Lehigh Valley Jewish Community.

“Wow! What if my oldest granddaughter and I could share the experience I had at that same age,” she said she recalled thinking.

So Levy called the camp and by the end of her conversation with camp registrar Abbey Sasson and the “warm reception” she gave Levy in response to her remembrances of her time there, she decided Frances would attend. She also arranged for younger sister Margot, eight, to have a taste of Galil (Margot will go for just five days beginning Aug. 4).

For the sisters, it’s a chance to make new friends, have fun, and maybe learn something.

Frances said she thinks “it’s cool” that her grandmother went to the same camp, but, she added, “it’s hard to imagine her as a camper.”

When the family went to visit the camp, Levy said she noticed a few things that were different from decades ago, but that in general little had changed.

“It was sort of funny listening to her saying where everything was when she was there,” said Frances.

Michele Levy was born in Paris right after Kristallnacht in 1938; her parents left Germany in 1933 and went to France, where her father set up a knitting business. They went into hiding in southern France after the Nazis marched into the country, and ultimately sailed for America in 1947.

By the summer of 1950, her parents had decided to send her to Camp Galil, which she attended for three summers.

She said she remembers the camp as “very intellectual.”

“We listened to classical music on Saturday evening at the end of Shabbat,” she said. Daniel Isaacman, who subsequently served as president of Gratz College, used to lead those sessions.

Levy said she also recalls singing and dancing on Shabbat “until 11 or 12 at night.”

The camp made such an impression on her that she still has a scrapbook from her time there, featuring photographs, words to camp songs, even postcards to and from her parents.

“She doesn’t let you touch it — the scrapbook is sort of like the Torah,” quipped Frances. But it has also given Frances a window into her grandmother’s life. “In one of the letters, she was having a fight with her mom,” said Frances. (The “fight” was soon resolved.)

Plenty has changed, from the hard trunks that all campers once used, to the reasons for going to camp. As Michele Levy recalled, “It was important to get out of the city in the summer because it was polio season. I had a cousin who got polio, and my parents really wanted me out of the city.”

She did not even try to disguise her delight at revisiting her old camp — and introducing it to her grandchildren.

“It’s the same,” said Levy. “There are a few more buildings and a new dining hall, but it’s the same. It’s still down-to-earth and basic. I’m so excited that they’re going. I want to share the warm fuzzy feeling I had there with Frances and I hope Margot will enjoy it, too!”

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