Where Are They Now?
Growing up, I loved spending my summers at Camp Ramah in Ojai. As an adult, I can truly appreciate the value of being immersed for a whole month in such an intense Jewish setting. At the time, I wasn't too thrilled with that aspect of it - the rigorous schedule of religious services twice a day, lengthy prayers before and after meals, and mandatory Torah study classes each morning. But I am very grateful for all that now, because even though I spent many years during and after college being weakly or non-observant, once I came back into the fold I found that thanks to Ramah I was still able to read Hebrew passably, could probably jump in and lead a Shacharit or Mincha service if called upon, and will now and forever be able to recite the entire Birkat Hamazon by heart.
But that isn't what I loved about camp at the time. No, the reason I wanted to keep returning year after year was for that classic summer camp experience, the chance to shed my boring, bookish year-round persona and become someone else - someone who french-braided my hair and wore Esprit mini-dresses and read Cosmo and helped raid the boy's bunk under cover of night with a group of giggling pre-teen girls.
Although my social life at camp was very satisfying, I still never made it anywhere near the ranks of the popular elite. If anything, that group seemed even more impenetrable and exclusive than the in-crowd at my school back at home. Ramah is considered the jewel in the crown of Jewish summer camps - a nationally known, very highly respected institution with a hefty price tag. That, and its prime location in Southern California meant that it drew heavily from wealthy families in places like Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Many of my fellow campers had parents who were famous scholars or writers (Chaim Potok's daughter was my drama teacher) or were heavy-hitters in the showbiz industry.
The popular girls I admired back at home had, at most, cute outfits from The Limited and hair that feathered easily - how they paled in comparison to the girls in the top social strata at camp, with their custom designer couture, professionally manicured nails and blasé, wordly air. The things they spoke of were light-years away from my experience: older boyfriends, trips to Spain and Italy, modeling contracts and Hollywood parties. These girls were like untouchable celebrities to me. I rarely even tried to interact with them on a day-to-day basis - I couldn't imagine what we'd begin to talk about - but I loved watching them from afar, walking across the grass with their flowing hair shining in the sun, their arms wrapped around their tanned, athletic boyfriends. 25 years later, I can barely conjure up the faces of people I went to school with for years, but I recall the girls at camp with astonishing clarity.
J. was the Queen Bee, somewhat surprisingly because, while undeniably attractive, she wasn't nearly the best-looking girl there. Her dad was known to be a powerful movie producer, though his IMDB entry lists "Meatballs 3" as his biggest and most recent credit. J. was sunny and outgoing, with a quick wit, perfect teeth, and long ash-blonde hair that always fell into her eyes. She had been going to camp for years and years and had long since attained the status of "it girl" - she was the star of every play (possibly because she was one of the few campers who spoke fluent Hebrew, a result of attending the prestigious L.A. Hebrew High School) and nearly every guy I knew had a devastating, painfully obvious crush on her. She positively exuded poise, intelligence and confidence, as though she fully expected to take the camp - and then the world- by storm. I always figured she was destined to do something extraordinary with her life, and was not surprised when I Googled her recently and learned that she is living in London and working as Senior Vice President of the European division of Warner Bros.
Then there was H., with her impossibly long legs, lilting South African accent, and dazzling crowning glory of lustrous, thick raven hair. I can still see her sitting under a tree surrounded by half a dozen admiring males, casually twisting her locks into an impromptu topknot with a few stray tendrils brushing softly against her cheeks - a look that would take most of us a few hours, and the assistance of a professional stylist, to achieve. Apparently she possessed not just beauty but brains too, since a simple internet search revealed that she now divides her time between teaching at Harvard Medical School and acting as Director of the Center for Women's Health at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.
But no one captured my imagination quite like the sophisticated, beautiful Jess, the first girl I ever knew who went to boarding school. And not just any boarding school - she attended the exalted Phillips Andover academy, which boasts a long list of distinguished alumni including George Bush (Jr. and Sr.), Humphrey Bogart, and JFK Jr. At age 15 she was already an experienced fashion model with an extensive portfolio of print and runway work. She also danced with a professional ballet troupe, and each summer she was in charge of choreographing the all-camp musical. Everything about her was glamorous, including her parents - her mom was a Washington correspondent for NBC news, and her dad was a highly influential judge who, it was rumored, owned a couple of sports teams. I was utterly in awe of her. Of all the girls I ever knew, Jess was the only one I truly, honestly believed had the talent and connections and striking good looks to become a movie star.
And in a way, she did. But not in the sort of films I expected. (Caution: Really, really, REALLY not work-safe. Or parent-safe, or easily-offended safe).