Many Jews attend overnight camp. But growing up, Micah Hart was so Jewish that he attended two every summer.
Hart was the son of the director of Jacobs Camp, a Reform Jewish camp in Mississippi. He went there every year, but to give him some independence, his parents sent him for half the summer to another Reform camp, Goldman Union Camp Institute in Indiana.
Hart did the same things every Jewish camper did. He played dodgeball and tetherball, wore white on Friday nights and learned Israeli dances. Like many others, his favorite part of camp was what happened outside the structured time, when he was chilling and messing around with friends.
But while he was having fun, something of lasting value was being formed.
“I think much of my Jewish social identity was formed at summer camp, whether from peer relationships or the cultural aspects of the program: learning about repairing the world, Jewish history, the songs, the rituals,” he told J. “A lot of that resonates more for me, because of camp.”
Nearly two decades after his last camp summer, and living with his family in Atlanta, Hart was finding it more and more difficult to catch up with his camp friends. So he made a podcast about it.
“Campfires and Color Wars” started in the summer of 2016, with a new one going online every two weeks or so until about four months ago. After 55 episodes, Hart was ready for a break, but he says he plans to start up again soon.
Basically, the podcast is Hart shooting the breeze with people who went to camp, some celebrities, some not, most of them Jewish. The conversations cover anything from camp food to the lake to awkward sexual encounters.
“All we do is reminisce about fun times from back in the day,” Hart said. “Camp’s hilarious. We did things that were so ridiculous, yet we found ourselves there, and grew up there, and did things that were really amazing.”
A 2018 episode featured David Wain, the creator of the “Wet Hot American Summer” franchise who directed the 2001 cult classic film about Jewish camp and its follow-ups on Netflix. Hart recalled the time his counselors woke the campers and told them it was the morning, but actually it was the middle of the night and a solar eclipse was occurring. Then Wain recalled sneaking around the lake to the girls’ cabins and wearing a Jimi Hendrix shirt every day.
Wain also revealed that one classic “Wet Hot” scene — Victor crashing a camp van into a tree on the way to hook up with a girl — actually happened to him in real life.
Now the parent of two small kids, Hart, 40, acknowledges that camp has changed since his days as a camper and counselor in the 1980s and 1990s. Safety regulations are much tighter, and there are those little things called cellphones.
“I was fortunate enough to go [to camp] before technology was really a thing,” he said. “Social media has changed camps in terms of campers’ ability to escape the outside world. Some parents won’t even send their kids if they can’t get a picture of them every day.”
But on the plus side, he added, “Camp has grown up in a lot of ways There’s more support for alternative lifestyles, LGBTQ rights — that was nowhere on our radar 20, 30 years ago.”
Hart knows he’ll deal with all of that when he sends his own kids to camp; his 7-year-old son will have his first experience this summer — at the same camp Dad attended, Jacobs Camp in Mississippi.
“I think the core essence of camp is still the same,” Hart said. “[It’s] the time and place where you find yourself and create deep bonds of friendship, make your best friends, experience first love.”
The podcast is a labor of love for Hart, who earns a living in the field of digital marketing. And while he thinks camp stories have value for everyone, he knows the quirky anecdotes are truly relatable only to those who went to camp.
“There is an endless supply of material, whether my own stories or interviewing other people who went to camp,” he said. “The point is to bring up memories of those awkward moments, the experiences of coming into your own — the essential camp journey. It reminds you of a simpler time in your life. I really enjoy doing it, and as long as there are people with stories, the show can go on.”