“God First, You Second, Me Third”: An Exploration of ‘Quiet Jewishness’ at Camp Wah-Kon-Dah

Archery at Camp Wah-Kon-Dah, 1950, courtesy of Stephen Rich.

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“God First, You Second, Me Third”: An Exploration of ‘Quiet Jewishness’ at Camp Wah-Kon-Dah

by Marcie Cohen Ferris
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 1: Spring 2012

"This was an anxious time for American Jews, stung by the anti-Semitic quotas and discrimination of the interwar years and the growing horror regarding the fate of European Jewry as the Holocaust came to light in the 1940s."

My first experience at a southern Jewish summer camp was not easy. I felt out of place. I couldn’t speak Hebrew. I didn’t know the songs, nor could I join in the raucous chanting of the Birkat Hamazon, the traditional Jewish blessing after meals. I was homesick. I didn’t want to spend the night at camp. I hated corndogs. And to make matters worse, I was in my mid-thirties, and it was hot as blazes in south central Mississippi. As the Project Director of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, located at Camp Henry S. Jacobs in Utica, Mississippi, in the early 1990s, I wondered what sane person attends summer camp in Mississippi, let alone Jewish summer camp?

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