What Netflix has to Say about Jewish Camps
In late July, Netflix revived the movie Wet Hot American Summer, turning it into an eight-episode series. The series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, is a prequel to the original film and set during the first day of camp.
When originally debuted in 2001, the film was a critical and commercial failure. Yet, thanks to its all-star cast of up-and-coming comedians and its 1980s-era soundtrack, it has achieved cult status. Many of the cast return in Netflix’ revival, including some of the biggest names in comedy today: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Kristin Wiig, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, and Bradley Cooper.
Set at a Jewish summer camp in the summer of 1981, the series parodies clichés seen in other classic camp movies from the 1980s.
As a child and teen, the director and writer of the original Wet Hot American Summer, David Wain, went to Camp Modin in Maine, and suggested that the film is a caricature of some of his experiences. According to Wikipedia, Camp Modin was founded in the 1920s as "The Summer Camp with a Jewish Idea" and was notable for its Jewish pluralism, welcoming children across the religious spectrum. By mixing recreation with religious and cultural education, Camp Modin has been described as "the prototype for camps sponsored by every branch of the community, from socialist Zionists to Orthodox Jews.”
As a Camp Director, I shudder to think the hijinks of the film and series represent the “real world” (they do not!). But with loudness and ruach (spirit) unique to camps, the film and series do capture Camp Modin and our camps’ essential values of pluralism and inclusiveness. Values by which we raise our next generation of leaders.
Are they any different from the values we espouse during the rest of the year? Of course not, but only camp provides such an intense immersion in those values. It’s what Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”