It’s not easy for parents to send off their children to sleep-away camp. Besides being a tremendous expense, it’s emotionally taxing to send a child away for four or eight weeks. Yet, parents do so, in the hope that their children will have the summer of their lives.
There is nothing that a parent of a sleep-away camper wants to hear more than how much his or her child is enjoying camp and having fun. On the flip side, one of the most difficult things for a parent to hear and contend with is a homesick child.
I’ve been a division head in camp for a decade-and-a-half, and have dealt with tens of homesick campers. It’s hard and painful when a camper is in tears begging to go home. Nights and Shabbasos are often more challenging for a homesick child. During the day, when the child is busy and playing activities, he isn’t thinking about home. But in the quiet of night or during a long Shabbos afternoon, the camper has more time to think, and more time to feel miserable.
Generally, the reason why most kids feel homesick has less to do with missing their parents than with unfamiliar surroundings. In one’s own home, he knows where the fridge is, and he knows the protocols of his family. He knows who to go to in case he needs anything and who to go to if he wants something. But in camp, he isn’t familiar with any of those things. He doesn’t know what’s expected, where things are, or who to go to when he needs something.
During the years that I have been a division head, 98 percent of the campers in my division who were homesick were completely fine and enjoying camp within a week. But that first week can be gut-wrenching. The parents must be able to tell their child that they aren’t coming to pick them up. Otherwise, if the child thinks he’s leaving imminently, he will never allow himself to adjust to his surroundings, and there is little chance that he will feel comfortable.
Then, there’s the opposite extreme. There’s the child who goes off to camp and totally forgets about home. He is having such a good time that he never bothers to write (there are still a few kids who know how to do that) or call. The only contact he makes with home is to inform his parents that he desperately needs more money in his canteen account, and what his parents need to schlep up when they come to camp on visiting day.
The ideal for parents is if their child is exuberantly happy in camp, and enjoys all the activities and everything about camp. Yet, they also miss their parents a little and are happy to see them, not just because of the things they bring for them.
Hashem, our loving Father, sent us into exile almost 2,000 years ago. There is hardly any comparison with a nation being sent into exile and a parent sending a child to have fun in camp. But the analogy does remind us that Hashem sent us into exile with a purpose. He wants us to acclimate in exile so that we can thrive and grow in avodas Hashem. However, He doesn’t want us to become so comfortable in exile that we forget we are in exile or that it has supplanted Jerusalem. In fact, Hashem waits to see that we are at least minimally homesick in exile, and beg to return home.
During these Three Weeks of mourning for the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem wants to see that we are homesick, or at least want to be homesick. The laws and restrictions of this time period are all to help us in that regard.
We don’t want to be satiated with occasional “visiting days” in exile – Shabbos and holidays when we feel closer with Hashem. We want to actually come home, and this time – forever!