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Kamp Kafka

by David Holzel

I attended the opening of a Jewish camp in the North Georgia Mountains. I went because I believed it a momentous occasion, but I couldn't help my unease. The excitement of others seemed to be bravado. Each cabin had a bunk song, as if there was a long tradition to uphold instead of quarters that had never even been slept in. The counselors were young and untested. Lunch had been thrown together. Everything seemed incomplete and incongruous.

Back at the office I described my discomfort. "There should be a camp for Jews who don't like camp," I said. "Who feel alienated by camp." To which a colleague exclaimed, "Camp Kafka!" It came together after that.

v v v

It is with trepidation and, I confess, some anxiety, that I welcome you all to Kamp Kafka. The culmination of a centuries-old dream, I can say with some little confidence, that the facility we are dedicating today will provide our children with the ultimate Jewish camping experience.

For Kamp Kafka is more than the usual summer camp, and more than the usual Jewish summer experience. Embodied in these heavily forested acres, far from the centers of urban Jewish life, are the generations of Jewish rootlessness, wandering and alienation -- Otherhood, as I like to call it. And it is just these values that we seek to pass down, l'dor vador, from generation to generation, to these youngsters seated before us. They are Kamp Kafka's pioneering vanguard.

As you toured the grounds today, you saw the Kamp Kafka difference. Your child will not be thrown together in a cabin with unfamiliar boys, and forced to adjust to a handed down, yet arbitrary, domestic arrangement, made to sing bunk songs to create an artificial sense of loyalty and belonging. Instead, your son was provided with a two-room garret, from which he can have a plain and solitary view of the rolling mountains, the better to inspire him to brood on the chasm between the richness and vastness of nature and his own finite existence.

Not that he will lack company, or supervision. For in the second room of each bunk will be a camper from a previous year, inexplicably changed into a large cockroach. Older children are a source of terror at every summer camp, and ours is no exception. But it is our philosophy that terror and revulsion are not merely fleeting things of childhood. Be assured that even 50 years hence, your child will not look back on his summer here through a mist of false nostalgia, but with a shudder borne of genuine experience with life.

  Another feature of bunk life are the random and arbitrary inspections that our counselors will perform at any time of day or night. Your son will not be apprised of the purpose of these inspections -- indeed, we, the leaders of Kamp Kafka, are not often informed in advance of the nature of the searches. And when we are, it is in the sketchiest of terms. But you can rest assured that our hand-picked staff will carry out this task with singular devotion and will detain only the campers found to be in violation.

If some of the seats on the bleachers here in the sports center are empty, that is not because we are not full this first session -- indeed there is a waiting list. You may have observed many parents striking out on the paths that crisscross our camp. Most lead nowhere; others go in circles. We should not dwell on the fact that they are lost and unlikely to find their way back. Rather, be satisfied that these people are having a genuine Kafka experience and, I might add, missing a lot of tedious speeches. [laughter]

Some of you have asked me when lunch will be served. You have said that the itinerary you received in town indicated that lunch would be at noon -- and here it is already almost 2 o'clock. I cannot explain the itinerary you received, because I do not know who sent it. Further, I am not the director of the camp, as some of you apparently believe. I am a sub-director of an echelon so low in the camp hierarchy that I have very little influence on events here, particularly lunch.

No, lunch is served solely at the discretion of Camp Director Klamm, and he is very rarely seen by the staff, and never by someone as minor in the hierarchy as myself. The best I can tell you is that lunch is, indeed, planned, and we will be notified when it is served. Of one thing we can be certain: it will not be served in the dining room, the building perched on the hill high above this sports facility. No one to my knowledge has ever been in the dining room, except for the Camp Director's closest associates. And even they are not sure they have really been in the dining room itself, but perhaps in some outer room where the bug juice and other drinks are made available. This is what I have been told by people who have met the associates of Camp Director Klamm at the lake, around the swimming pool, or at the tennis courts.

The lake, by the way, is one of the treasures of Kamp Kafka. With its pure, sparkling water, we share the lake with the girls camp, Camp Sylvia Plath, situated at the farthest shore. We fully expect that many of our campers will discover that first painful longing for female companionship and validation while staring at those crystal blue waters. More than a just place for swimming, boating and water skiing, the lake is a metaphor for our unbridgeable individuality that is at the heart of loneliness.

Older children
a source of terror at every summer camp,
and ours is no exception.
I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to Kamp Kafka's Benefactor. For it is he who sought to make a difference by building this magnificent facility. Our Benefactor traveled from the Old Country until he reached a door before which stood a doorkeeper. Our Benefactor asked for admittance, but the doorkeeper said he couldn't grant admittance at the moment. Being a man who sought to make a difference, our Benefactor asked if it would be possible to pass through later and the doorkeeper answered, "Perhaps." Since the door was open and the keeper had moved to the side, our Benefactor peered into the interior. "If you are so insistent, you can enter despite my veto," the doorkeeper said. "But beware: I am powerful, and each successive doorkeeper inside is more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so powerful that even I cannot bear to look at him."

This gave our Benefactor pause, and so he sat down on a stool the doorkeeper had provided him, to await a better moment. Years went by and our Benefactor at last came to die. "Everyone wants to make a difference and give back to the community," he said with his final breaths. "So how is it that no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper replied, as our Benefactor's eyes grew glassy, "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made for you. I am now going to shut it."

Well, friends of Kamp Kafka, I've spoken long enough. The busses that brought you here have long since departed. You have put your trust in Kamp Kafka, and we are confident that we will now earn that trust as we release you and your children to make your own way, unaccompanied by experience, assistance or authority. We release you to face your existence, alone, and to find the joy that many of you will discover beyond the horror, at the end of the camp session. Thank you. [applause]

(c) 1997 by David Holzel

for more alienation:
Gets Laid

Meet another hunger artist at:

Leni's Franz Kafka Page