Retrouvailles (French) – Reunions are a beautiful thing. Retrouvailles refers to the feeling of overwhelming relief and joy that accompanies seeing someone after a long separation. I felt retrouvailles pretty strongly last winter when I saw my family and friends for the first time in a year and a half…and that manifested into ugly-crying on my best friend’s shoulder in the baggage claim area of Dulles. – Alex Brueckner (http://thoughtcatalog.com/alex-brueckner/2014/02/13-untranslatable-words-that-have-to-do-with-love/)

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a slump, and it’s all got to do with my favorite place on earth; Camp JCA Shalom. Yes, you heard me right, I did say my FAVORITE place. On. The. Planet. For the past few weeks I haven’t been able to get my mind off of my second home, and everything around me has seemed a bit more, well, dull, to put it simply.

Let me explain. For all those readers who haven’t been to this small slice of heaven nestled in the Malibu Mountains, I am happy to talk about it. (and if by some twist of fate, you HAVE been to JCA, please leave me a comment!) JCA Shalom is a fairly small jewish camp in the Malibu Mountains. It’s only about 20 minutes from my neighborhood, but drive through its gates and past the “shalom sign” (pictured below) and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a different world entirely.

shalom sign
My favorite welcome mat in the whole wide world

The air is cool with the mist that blows in from the Pacific, and the branches of the trees drape over the dusty road like arms, hugging you close and welcoming you back home. And what a home camp is! Staff welcome you into the family from the moment you cross the bridge over the ravine into the main quad. The sunlight filters through the green of the trees and leaves the ground a shaded, speckled green; sort of like a stained glass window in the dirt. The smell of homemade mac and cheese or roasting hot dogs wafts over the hills and soccer fields, calling kids and teenagers of all ages into the old dining hall, where we eat family style, following the “whoever kills it, fills it” rule. Like I said, we’re a family.

But there’s more to camp than what it looks, smells, and sounds like (obviously). It’s the people that make it count. I know, it’s mushy gushy and corny. Rachel Brosnahan once said, “I think home has become my friends and family, wherever they are”, and it’s true: I’ve never felt more at home than I have sitting on the dining hall deck with old and new friends alike at JCA. This summer will be my 6th one back, and some of my best friends are ones that I’ve known for 4 years now. We met years ago as nervous 6th and 7th graders graduating from 1-week sessions away from home to 2-or-3-weeks away, and we bonded instantly through our nerves and excitement.

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There’s something about the fresh air, homey vibes, and lack of technology (there is no cell service and absolutely no cell phones allowed!) that builds friendships rather quickly out there in the mountains. Here in the comfort of my own home, I spend more time on my iPhone than I’m proud to admit, but I have zero issues with leaving it behind for a few weeks of my summer – I’ll trade Snapchat for an extended sleepover with my best friends any day, and I never end up missing it much anyways. Climb 30 feet into the trees on a rope ladder, lead a Shabbat service with your cabin, or sleep on the sand under the stars, and you’ll realize that there’s more to life than the dog filter anyways. Each summer that I return, I make even more best friends, and the reunion that I get to enjoy with old ones brings me to happy tears nearly every time.

Which brings me to the meat of this blog post: Retrouvailles, the reunion. Do you know what day it is? Wednesday. Wednesday, May 17th. Would you like to know when I get to go back to Camp JCA Shalom?

End of July.

Wow. My camp is only 20 minutes away from me, yet I spend 11 months of the year pining away for it. It is so close, yet so far, and I am longing for the retrouvailles I’ll feel in July. It’s hard to keep in touch during the school year, y’know? I’ve made so many amazing friends over the years at JCA, but I’ve only been fortunate to talk to about 3 or 4 of them regularly this school year. Even some of my best friends live just far enough away that I can’t take a quick drive out to go visit them, and our schedules collide so much that we haven’t been able to talk. I feel like a part of me is gone; I miss them all so much. Have you ever felt the pain of being separated from someone you love? I pity all of you out there in long distance relationships; I can barely handle being away from my platonic friends – I’d even call them my brothers and sisters – for a year. I bet you all long for the feeling of retrouvailles, too. I could best describe what I’m feeling as having a part of me missing, or a magnetic pull. It’s as if my heart is a magnet and camp is another: I feel as if my very being is being pulled down Mulholland Drive, and I am losing my sanity piece by piece. Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, I left mine on the dusty road leading down to JCA, or perhaps behind the “shin” of the shalom sign. High on a hill, it calls to me.

There will come a day in the next few months when I will fling open my curtains, put on my favorite shirt, and race to the car, ready to drive down the dusty, winding road to reunite with my, shall I say, “extended” family. Alas, that day is not today (although I wish it was – I would speed through the mountains in a heartbeat if I could, but in the middle of May, the wrought iron gates would not be so welcomingly open). Until July comes, I can only dream of the feeling of retrouvailles that will rush through my veins when I once again sit on the dining hall deck, smell the fresh ocean breeze, and get to tackle my friends in a bear hug. The moment I see my best friends’ smiles again, or hear their bubbling, contagious laughter, all of my endless waiting will be worth it.

Until then, could July please hurry up?

Yours truly,

Mia

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