When I first walked through the gates of Camp Massad more than 40 years ago, I could not have imagined how important Massad would be in my life.
I had no idea Massad would be the place where I would be inspired to become a writer, become proficient in Hebrew, meet my husband and learn the songs I sang to my children when they were young. I had no idea Massad would become for my children their home away from home.
Nestled on the edge of Winnipeg Beach, Massad was founded in 1953 as a Hebrew-speaking labour Zionist summer camp. In the 60 years since, it has served as a kind of Shangri-La for Jewish youth from Winnipeg, a paradise found in the middle of the Canadian Prairie.
At Massad, campers and counsellors alike explore and embrace their Jewish identity, culture and faith through one-of-a-kind programming, sports, song, dance, theatre and extraordinary expressions of creativity. With an energy and magic impossible to describe, Massad manages to make every child feel special and gives every child the opportunity to stand centre stage.
At Massad, funny counts more than anything else, and everything that happens is put to song.
At Massad, a boy's willingness to parade around in a dress, or a girl's bravado to climb the rafters of the auditorium, hammer in hand, are true indicators of leadership.
At Massad, latent talents blossom, quirkiness is encouraged, roller-coasters are constructed out of lath, and fantasy worlds emerge every evening from paper, paint and a handful of nails.
Camp Massad has always been a place -- as anyone who has ever spent time there will tell you -- that is difficult to leave and impossible to forget.
Which is why I and about 120 other alumni will return to Massad for a 60th-anniversary reunion this weekend. Coming from across the country and across generations, we will converge on the campsite, flush with childlike excitement at spending our time together conjuring up lyrics to old team songs, performing in shtick, dancing hand in hand and searching for our faded signatures on cabin walls.
We will take turns setting the tables in the dining hall, gather around the bonfire and crowd together on well-worn benches to welcome the Sabbath with prayer. We will sift through the costume room, point out favourite counsellors on carousel slides, laugh and reminisce.
We will be 80, we will be 50, we will be 30, and we will all be 16 again.
Sharon Chisvin is the outgoing co-president of Camp Massad.