Visiting Day, a Summer Institution, Sparks Debate

For decades, for many parents with children in sleepaway camps, visiting day, or days, is a fixture of the summer.  In recent years, an increasing number of camps have eliminated one or both visiting days, amid growing complaints from parents about the difficulty and expense of the pilgrimage.

One Boro Park resident, who asked not to be named, said that he finds it too difficult to take off a day from work and visit each of his children’s camps.  He felt that the whole institution is a self-imposed issue; “because there is such a thing as visiting day, kids expect you to go visit them. If it wouldn’t exist or if it would be optional, kids would be happy either way,” he said.

Camp Naalah in Parksville, New York, last year went from two to one visiting days and this year canceled both, giving girls who planned to stay the whole summer the option to go home for a day between sessions.

A mother whose daughter attends Camp Naalah told Hamodia that she completely agrees with the decision;

“I miss my kids, but this makes much more sense than spending a whole day in the car to see a kid for 20 minutes. If all camps would do it, kids won’t expect it and they’ll be perfectly happy.”

Machaneh Chayei Sura in Glen Spay, New York, kept its first visiting day, but canceled the second. They provided transportation to the city for those staying in camp for all eight weeks, to go home for one day between sessions.

“It became very challenging for parents to come for two Sundays,” said a program director who asked not to be named. “For the kids whose parents do not come it was very hard, because many others still came. Since, in any case, for those who are here eight weeks, there always was a four-week period between visiting days, we felt that sending the girls home after four weeks served same purpose, and made it much easier for the parents.”

A director of another large girl’s camp that eliminated both visiting days said that the response has been purely positive;

“I have not heard one complaint, only thank you’s, from parents and staff alike,” he said. “For parents to travel from the city and then run around to camps, it is all too much. My staff said that the whole thing upsets programming the day of before and after. It just doesn’t work.”

Meir Frishman, Director of Camp Agudah, said that he had seriously considered eliminating the first visiting day, typically barely two weeks into camp, but was prevailed upon to do otherwise.

“I took a little poll on the first visiting day,” he said. “The response from parents was mixed with a vocal minority arguing to cancel it, but the staff was very much in favor of keeping both.”

Frishman explained that for rebbeim and counselors alike, visiting day is an opportunity to discuss issues they are having with their children. The very fact that there is face-to-face contact, they felt, helps them to be much more effective as mechanchim.

Another factor mentioned by several camp parents is that visiting day plays a big role in motivating parents to tip rebbeim and counselors, an important part of their summer wages.

“For those of us that do not have cars visiting day is a very hard proposition, especially if you’re struggling financially,” said Shia from Boro Park. “It cost me $220 for a car service to go from one camp to another, and then back to where I was staying.”

“It’s a wonderful challenge,” he summed up. “But it’s a challenge nonetheless.”