1. Havdalah makes you emotional.
Something about a campfire, slow and spirited prayers, and the smell of spices after a rel
axing weekend creates an atmosphere of strong emotions. You can’t fight it. Just give in.
2. The friends you make at camp have become your friends for life.
It’s simply a known fact. It’s rare in life to become so close to that many people in such as short period of time, so it’s no surprise that five, ten, fifteen, infinity years down the line, the people that were in your bunk are still the people you call your best friends.
3. Temporarily unplugging doesn’t make you nervous or anxious.
Most days you are glued to your phone or in front of your computer, and sometimes both simultaneously. But after so many summers of disconnecting from devices, taking the time to unplug is a welcome gift, not a source of anxiety.
4. For some reason, you have leadership skills.
Whether it was as color war captain, a bunk counselor or simply gaining the confidence to become the leader you are today, these skills have helped to shape your character, and you are definitely grateful.
5. You embrace the outdoors.*
*…but only at camp
You can’t necessarily call yourself “outdoorsy”, but you definitely understand how rewarding a beautiful view can be after a hike. Sleeping in a tent however, is still strictly an at-camp experience.
6. You’ve conquered fears.
Whether it was performing in the camp play, conquering the ropes course or finally having your chance to shine during the all camp talent show, you definitely tried something new at camp. Your biggest fear quickly became your biggest success.
7. You’ve mastered the art of teamwork.
Whether it took place during Color Wars, supporting a fellow camper during a bout of homesickness, a camp vs. camp sports rivalry, or an overnight in the woods, being a team player is a major part of who you are. And it’s a skill that has gone on to help you in just about any situation in which you find yourself.
8. You appreciate a handwritten letter.
Even though you know your mailbox will mostly be filled with junk mail or bills, you still anxiously await opening it each day hoping to find a beautiful handwritten letter from a friend. As an added bonus, you know the value of a handwritten letter- whether it’s writing a thank you to a prospective employer or simply thanking a friend for having your over.
9. You understand the importance of healthy competition.
Maccabiah. Is. Everything. And it would be nothing without some team spirit and a competitive edge. But you’ve also gained all of the sportsmanship skills you’ll ever need.
10. You can change the lyrics of any song to reflect any situation.
Truth be told, you can probably take any theme and turn it into a larger-than-life event. But you can take any song and turn it into an emotional, rhyming, spirited rendition of just about any topic you can think of.
11. You understand the importance of being a part of a community.
Whether it’s getting more involved in school activities, joining a sports team, getting involved in local Jewish life or joining a fraternity or sorority, you understand the value of being a part of community and just how great it can be to share important experiences with a bunch of like-minded people.
12. Staying in on Friday night and having dinner with friends is your favorite way to spend Shabbat.
Camp taught you about all of the ways to enjoy Shabbat, so whether it’s a Friday night dinner and board games or observing Shabbat in a more traditional way, the best way always involves good friends and good food.
13. Some of your fondest memories are of staying up all night on the last night of camp. But some of your most traumatic memories are of the last day of camp.
We all know that the last day of camp is the worst day of the year. But we also know that the last night of camp is the most exciting- staying up all night, saying farewells to your friends that you know you’ll see at camp reunion and reminiscing about the best days of summer almost make up for the fact that the summer must come to an end.
14. You think of time in two ways: camp time and real time.
Camp has a very specific and distinct timeline that defies the time-space continuum: One camp day = one real world week, one camp week = one real world month, one camp month = six real world months. But somehow, an entire summer goes so fast that it feels like one real world day.
15. No matter how long it lasted, your first real relationship was at camp.
Your first date was totally a casual Shabbat walk at camp. You learned how be a good friend and a good date, all without leaving the perimeters of camp.
No matter what Jewish camp you went to, or how long ago it was — it’s undeniable: Camp made you who you are today.
Today was about Torah and today was about midrash.
I have been teaching our 3rd graders about the Torah readings we’ve done in the last several weeks. Today, we had Fashion Five Minutes (Fashion Week? I wish! Each second with these kids is precious, and we have precious minutes on Monday mornings!). We watched the g-dcast video about Tetzaveh, talked about holy clothing, and the squad of 3rd graders sketched holy garb. Some recreated the g-dcast animation, some drew pictures of a favorite dress, and some drew a particularly swirly kippot. Boom. Midrash.
I popped into a 5th grade Torah service. My colleague taught them how to chant and the whole class reads for their invited guests and family. They’re like grasshoppers to me – they seem so small, but they’re actually looming large, chanting like the middle schoolers they will be so very soon. Also, they read the story of the spies in parshat Shlach Lecha. Beautifully. And soon, we’ll be sending them over to the middle school. Boom. Torah.
After that, it was off to iPod Tefillah, a program from URJ Camp Coleman that I’ve modified to great reception at both camp and school. After a student group chose “Brave” by Sara (Beth) Bareilles (can’t help but love her – what a great name!) as a good example of the themes in Mi Chamocha, I confirmed that they knew that the midrashic character from the crossing of the sea was headed up by Nachshon, the bravest Israelite to escape from Egypt. The answer came, loudly, from a Coleman camper who’s a student at Davis. Boom. Midrash.
Next, I set up lunch packing for our 8th graders. Each grade has taken time out of their own lunch to prepare and pack lunches for the Zaban Couples Center at The Temple in Atlanta. Students instruct each other on the best way to make their sandwich, help me pack up boxes of lunches, and bring them to the car so they can be dropped off, and given to people who truly need them. Each student is instructed to make a lunch that they would like to receive – do you want apple or berry juice? Do you want a green or a red apple? And, most importantly, what kind of a note would you like to receive in your lunch to add a spark of happiness to your lunch break? A 6th grader wrote “You are beautiful in every single way” and an 8th grader scrawled “This is the best sandwich I’ve ever created!” Both show love in the student’s own unique way – and we were all loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Boom. Torah.
I shot over from lunch packing to the lower school building to listen to some 5th graders reading Torah, followed by a practice of the seder play that our 2nd graders are doing. Boom. Torah. Boom. Midrash.
It is truly rewarding to work with these kids. Teaching children at all times, when I’m walking and when I’m sitting.
When my children were in Kindergarten they learned about the story of Esther in preparation for Purim. Five years ago, at the Purim Seudah, or festive meal, Yadid shared with me what he learned about Purim in school. He learned that, Haman’s punishment (for attempting genocide) was having to walk behind Mordechai, who was riding on the royal horse, and pick up the poop. Yadid added with a smile that this is his favorite part of the story. This year at Purim, like every other year, I will try to fulfill the commandment to mistake the blessing of Mordechai with the curse of Haman. It struck me this year that I have been acculturated to expect Haman. He is a stock character in our history. As the adage goes, “What is the definition of an anti-Semite? It is someone who hates Jews more than you are supposed to.” I am thankful that Yadid was not taught of Haman and his sons being put to death, but I realize that in retelling the story of Purim, we have normalized anti-Semitism. From a young age Haman is not excused but he is to be expected.
I was reminded of a Sarah Silverman piece in which she corrects her niece who was astounded that 60 Million Jews died in the Holocaust. After correcting her that it is 6 million Jews, not 60 million, her niece responds “What is the difference?” There is a difference, “Because 60 million would have been unforgivable.” We make fun, but it is astounding to realize that the expectation of anti-Semitism has made us fulfill the commandment of mixing up Mordechai and Haman all year-long. As if anti-Semitism is normative, if not normal. That’s black and white.
You might argue that the hatred of Jews is a central theme of Jewish history. You would be correct. But when is it appropriate to share this with our children? Why would you want to raise your children to think that being hated is expected? Isn’t it black and white?
It is particularly scary raising Jewish children in a world in which there is a revival of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, ISIS is on the rise, and Iran is inching closer to having weapons of mass destruction to aim at Israel. In my mind part of the problem is that we have made it normal to hate the Jews. In each story in our history, we are left trying to figure out who loves us and who hates us. It is a sort of pornographic horror- we hate it, but we just cannot pull ourselves away from it. Like Fifty Shades of Grey, the global audience enjoys watching anti-Semitism. Purim is a time of grey, not black and white. Esther is the queen and also the object of hate. It is the time when we confuse Haman for Mordechai and blessings for curses.
The rest of the year we need to know what is good and what is evil- black and white. Hating people for their religion, racial identity, gender identity, orientation, or ethnic identity is simply wrong and there is nothing normal about it. How will our children understand the horrors of anti-Semitism without trivializing it? We need to confront evil beyond making bad people “pick up the poop.”
Difference is part of life. This is true for everyone, but particularly the case when disability is part of our lives, whether our children have a disability, or we have disabilities ourselves. As parents of children with disabilities, it’s irrelevant whether our experience more closely resembles the classic 1987 description entitled Welcome to Holland, which describes life as though everyone around you landed in your planned destination of Venice, while you landed in Holland. A more contemporary description, which compares life to speeding through a hilly town with busy streets, in a car without functioning brakes vs. another experience entirely. Regardless, our lives are different from most of the community. The weird looks, lack of understanding, and the reality that the lives of our so-called peers seem foreign to our reality, are each completely exhausting.
For children with disabilities, their experience as “different” may seem equally, if not more, frustrating during the school year. The special classes, taking tests physically separated from other students, and often with separate instructions than their “typical” classmates, getting individualized help or other accommodations often further reinforces that they’re different. Regardless of how helpful or even necessary these accommodations are for academic success, they can still reinforce negative social stigmas. It’s no wonder then that both children with disabilities and their parents feel overwhelmed. Any opportunity to escape this reality and experience how “others” live. To fit in and belong, even if it’s only for a few weeks, sounds spectacular to parents and children alike. Thus, summer camp, a predominantly controlled environment, not governed by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which legally require the disclosure of disabilities, seems like the perfect opportunity to be discrete and seem “normal.”
On the surface, nondisclosure of nonvisible disabilities seems like a perfect solution. If your child can pass as “normal”, they should be treated normally. Consequently, fit in and therefore, avoid the stigma of difference. The problem is that disabilities don’t disappear. Disabilities, even those most often associated directly with learning, don’t only affect people while they’re in school. Even when settings change or labels are hidden, disabilities always remain.
I understand this as a parent, a former camper with a disability, a staff member on a summer program, where there were campers whose disabilities were disclosed before camp, and campers whose parents chose not to disclose their child’s disability. However, if you don’t want to take my word for it, here is something to think about. According to the American with Disabilities Act a “disability is an impairment or impairments that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” It continues by making clear that a disability exists even if a person “is only perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Major life activities aren’t confined to a singular setting. Furthermore, people’s perceptions are not determined by disclosure of official medical diagnoses, but rather their day-to-day interaction with an individual. The difficulties associated with disability, with or without disclosure, are always present. Just as important, if not more so, we cannot give our children their best chance for success without providing them access to all of the beneficial support available, something that is impossible without disclosure. In short, we need to take the stigma out of disclosure and put success into it.
Inclusion…mainstreaming …general education…. One on one/shadow…these are words that fly through my mind almost daily, and are a regular part of my vocabulary. My son Sammy is 9 years old, and on the autism spectrum. He is what some might consider “high functioning.” He has no issue with communicating his needs and likes (and definitely his dislikes!). He is happy, affectionate, and has a healthy sense of humor. This social butterfly loves unconditionally and just wants to be friends with everyone. He is incredibly smart and has a memory that won’t quit. Sammy is adventurous and active, sometimes a little too fearless for my comfort level. He is incredibly aware of his surroundings and is a creature of habit. Due to his developmental disability he appears younger than he actually is. His interests are not always completely age appropriate and can be limited in scope. We work to introduce new activities and interests as often as possible to broaden his horizons and help keep up with his peers.
He has a full and happy life, but his knowledge of Judaism is quite limited. Our oldest son attended Camp Deeny Riback (CDR) in Flanders for nine years and our daughter has been there for seven years and running. This day camp program is second to none, offering an enviable array of activities and just the right dose of Jewish heritage programming. It was determined that Sammy was a perfect candidate for the Camp Friends program, CDR’s inclusive experience for children with special needs. Last year we took a deep breath (well truthfully I did, my husband was cool as a cucumber the whole time) and decided it was time to give Sammy the chance to shine in that setting too. We signed Sammy up for the minimum four week session. CDR’s staff has a reputation for being attentive, professional, and dedicated to making each and every camper’s summer a spectacular one.
It was now Sammy’s turn to experience this fantastic program and all it has to offer. Since I feared that placing him in a group of boys his own age– while being the “new kid on the block”–might be a bit too much for him, I asked if we could try fitting him in with group of boys just one year younger. This request was granted without question, and helped to ease my apprehension. Since cooperative play, initiating with peers, and asking/answering questions were at the top of our list of goals, we thought this arrangement would be a more appropriate fit.
At this point I knew several things for certain: 1) Sammy would have an amazing summer at CDR, 2) he would have a dedicated one- on -one shadow assigned to him (and I was assured that his shadow would blend in with the other counselors, no hovering, step in and support when needed, etc.), 3) he would have a somewhat easier time socially, thanks to that one year age difference between him and his bunk mates, 4) he would get the perfect amount of exposure to his Jewish roots via Israeli culture, Friday afternoon Shabbat programming, cooking, songs, etc. and 5) he would be gently nudged out of his comfort zone a bit via new peers, new routine, new activities, and a new setting.
The one thing I didn’t know… the thing that had me worried… will Sammy fit in? Will the other kids like him and accept him for who he is? Will he have friends? These thoughts plagued me. Nevertheless, it was time to take a chance and give both he and CDR the chance to prove my fears were inflated.
Fast forward to the day before camp began…camp visitation day. We knew attending this event was a must. It would be the perfect opportunity for Sammy to see firsthand where he would be spending the next four weeks. We arrived and were cheerfully greeted by Becca (the head of the Camp Friends program) and Sammy’s unit leaders, who lead us to a group of friendly and energetic young men, the counselors in charge of Sammy’s group. We handed Becca a list of “goals” (developed by one of our private therapists) for Sammy to work on over the summer such as social skills, eye contact, asking for help, and fostering independence. We were introduced to a friendly, down to earth young man (Mikey) who was assigned to be Sammy’s shadow. We spent a few minutes talking to Mikey about Sammy, but the best way for Mikey to get to know Sammy was by jumping right in and spending time with him. Mikey immediately worked to start forging a connection with Sammy. Sammy was invited to explore camp with the counselors… find his cubby…see the pool…see the ropes course…kick around a soccer ball. My heart skipped a beat as I watched my curly haired boy happily and willingly trot off with the counselors to check out his new camp. It’s as if with that gesture he was saying “it’s all going to be ok, mom. Don’t worry, I’m gonna have a great time here.” He would’ve jumped in the pool that day if we let him. On the ride home Sammy was asking to come back the next day, and talking about all of the things he wanted to do there. He was READY.
I didn’t sleep much the night before camp, as my nerves had gotten the best of me. That morning he leapt out of bed, excited and energized. He hopped onto the bus smiling, happy, cheery. My 11 year old daughter must have sensed my anxiety and took me aside to say “Don’t worry Mom, I won’t let anyone tease him. I will look after him.” Tears of pride filled my eyes. I watched the bus pull away and felt a pit in my stomach. “Please let my baby have a great day…” was all I could think to myself. I had to sit on my hands all day to keep from calling the camp and checking on him. Although I knew he was in very good hands, the “mama bear” in me couldn’t help being concerned and worried.
The bus arrived home at the end of the day. Sammy was tired, he smelled of chlorine, his clothes had a generous film of dirt from playing outside, and he was happy: the surefire signs of a successful day at camp! Since I was given his schedule on camp visitation day I knew exactly what kind of questions to ask and what sort of answers to expect when talking about his day. Several minutes later, Becca called me with the best news I could possibly expect. She told me he had a great day: He participated in all of the activities, followed the daily routine, he was happy, he was social, and that he was a pleasure to have. What more could I ask for than a great start to a new experience?
The days went by and every day it was evident that Sammy was having increasingly more fun. He would share stories about himself and the boys in his group, and all the new experiences he was having. He was singing some of the Hebrew songs, reciting bits of the prayers, and was without fail excited to go to camp each and every morning. It was clear to see that he was part of a camp family, and expanding his horizons.
About a week and a half into the summer, Becca called to offer Sammy the opportunity to visit Camp Nah Jee Wah (an NJY overnight camp in PA) for “Science Day.” Many of the boys in his group were attending, and the activities would likely appeal to Sammy. Another deep breath was required here… this involved a long bus ride to a new location, as well as a change of routine. I was assured that Mikey would accompany him for the day, so I asked Sammy if he was interested. He enthusiastically agreed, and I knew I needed to allow him the chance to try something new. He ended up having a great time and participated in activities such as banana boat rides on the lake and science experiments.
Two weeks of camp had passed and Sammy’s enjoyment continued to grow. It was obvious that he felt right at home. The reports from staff were glowing; he was blossoming. He started to pedal a two wheeler a little, he canoed for the first time, he zipped down the zip line. He was taking chances, coming out of his comfort zone, learning new things, and feeling more connected to his religion. We were told that he was truly part of the group, and well liked by the other campers. He was interacting with campers and staff of all ages, making his mark on CDR.
At this point in time we knew what had to be done… it was an easy decision to extend Sammy to a total of seven weeks at camp (the eighth week was set aside for our family summer vacation). The benefits he was reaping from this program were huge. Our little caterpillar was turning into a strong confident butterfly.
Sammy truly grew attached to his shadow in a very short time. We saw numerous great pictures of them together and it was easy to see their bond and mutual caring for one another. Mikey left at the end of four weeks and on his last day was awarded a small plush cow wearing a CDR t-shirt. This is a CDR tradition—the COW (Counselor of the Week) award. My daughter told me that Mikey gave this award to Sammy. When he arrived home with this lovely token I was brought to tears. For the remaining three weeks Sammy was paired with a different shadow counselor, also a very nice young man. He had a wonderful time with him as well. He was a super friend and support to Sammy and helped his summer to end on a great note.
We are incredibly grateful for the role that CDR played in Sammy’s life last summer. The Camp Friends program made it possible for him to immerse himself in all of the wonderful aspects of a Jewish day camp, while receiving the support and encouragement he needed. Becca, Mikey, and all of the staff who worked with Sammy deserve a round of applause for making him feel comfortable and safe enough to take chances he might not have otherwise taken (and for making this nervous mother feel comfortable enough to let go and allow Sammy to show us all he is capable of). I cannot stress enough how important it is to find that perfect balance of the right staff, the right setting, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere to make the inclusion experience a true success. Needless to say, Sammy is registered to attend CDR for the summer of 2015. He has been talking about his camp friends for months, and hopes to see many of them again. We are optimistic for another great summer, and expect to see him grow and develop even further in this fantastic inclusion program.
More years ago than I care to admit, I was a camper at the JCC Camps at Medford in Medford, NJ. I recall having so many wonderful times, but none was as wonderful as the summer of 2014. As a Division Head, I was able to observe at a distance, my then 4 year old daughter enjoying the time of her young life. By the end of the summer, when every child in her bunk was hugged, and tears dried, she said she was ready for the next important time of her life – being 5.
I’ve spent 20 years as a Special Education teacher, and now, for the summer of 2015 I will have the privilege of serving as our camp’s Director of Open Hearts Open Doors, our inclusion program for children with special needs. I couldn’t be more excited!
Open Hearts/Open Doors provides the accommodations necessary for children with disabilities to be fully integrated in the Camp program with their peers. With the one-on-one attention of an advocate, each child is able to flourish and fully enjoy their camp experience. Additionally, Open Hearts Open Doors makes an incredible impact on our typically functioning campers who have the opportunity to learn acceptance and about diversity while make life long friends.
Last summer I observed many moments in the everyday lives of our very special children. I say special because each and every camper, with or without an IEP, comes with their own unique needs and abilities. At camp, those needs are met seamlessly, and differences are celebrated! I observed caring counselors and advocates working as a team to guide their charges from apprehension to joy. I observed children with varying physical, emotional and academic abilities performing on the camp stage together to the rousing applause of fellow campers, staff and parents. Stars were born and magic was made.
My goal for 2015 is to help our very special campers achieve what every child should have in the summer – joy. While I love the motto hanging on the wall behind the reception desk of the JCC, Where people with special needs don’t feel special, I do want our campers to feel special. I want them to feel special in the way all children feel special: when they get a base hit, learn to swim, create a work of art, master karate moves, or perform in a play that everyone loved. The focus is on inclusion, which not only benefits the child with special needs, but also their peers, counselors, and the camp Kehillah (community) as a whole.
Originally posted on eJewishPhilanthropy.com
There’s no denying the rich, joyous, and stimulating experience of Jewish summer camp; research proves it contributes to Jewish identity, strengthens the Jewish community and fosters Jewish leadership.
At Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), we believe camp must also reflect the diversity of today’s Jewish community and be accessible for everyone.
Jewish camps should strive to create an environment which fosters growth for its campers and college aged counselors. Everyone benefits from an inclusive camp community, which has a culture that embraces and recognizes diversity.
We encourage camp environments where each camper, regardless of whether or not they have a disability, is given what they need to succeed at camp, in an environment in which everyone can learn from each other. Camp offers a place where every child has the opportunity to learn how to live in a diverse community, how to face and overcome challenges, and how to accept that being different is okay. An inclusive camp environment gives everyone the opportunity to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn how to be flexible and tolerant. These skills help build a stronger future Jewish community.
Part of what makes camp so unique is how integrated it is into nature and the ruach that comes along with it. The unpaved greenery, the steps up to the bunks, the hills that lead to the dining hall, the loud cheering after Shabbat dinner on Friday night. But what about the camper with cerebral palsy who can’t walk herself up that hill to the dining hall? Or the boy who covers his ears during song session because he has autism and the loud cheering is overwhelming? For the 15-20% of kids with a disability, whether that is cognitive, emotional, physical, intellectual or sensory, camp can present many obstacles. We feel an obligation to increase the availability of camp options for them.
After our study conducted in 2012-13 found that children with disabilities are significantly underserved by Jewish camp, FJC issued a vision statement for a major disabilities initiative. The overarching goal is to ensure that campers with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers. In 2014, we began securing funding to enhance services at nonprofit Jewish camps across North America for campers with disabilities. One of the major areas identified by the study was the need for trained inclusion specialists and for counselor training focused on serving children with a variety of needs.
One major step in this direction is our new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the FJC Ruderman Inclusion Initiative. Four camps have been selected as part of the pilot. Each camp will have a new, dedicated Inclusion Coordinator on staff to intentionally and meaningfully increase their camp’s capacity to serve campers with disabilities. These inclusion coordinators will also receive intensive training and mentoring over the course of three years. They will have the opportunity to learn about universal design, developing strategies to manage camper behaviors and creating cooperative learning for all campers.
Our inclusion efforts continue to grow and we are eager to help more camps find new ways to say yes and break down more barriers. We now have 60 overnight camps within our system who are currently serving children with disabilities. In 2014, we added 3 new programs, one of which is an inclusion program for boys who are deaf and in the summer of 2015, we anticipate several new programs at our camps. As Jewish leaders, camp directors, and educators, this is our responsibility.
It boils down to one major truth: every child, no matter who they are, has the right access the Jewish community. There’s no telling what the future of Jewish camp or the Jewish community will look like, but one thing is for sure: it will be a much richer, more welcoming community if it becomes an inclusive one.
Jewish camp is a place where each child has the ability to make their own Jewish choices and learn what it’s like being a part of a Jewish community. However, many of the children in North America defined as having a disability are not properly served by the Jewish camp community. Their ability to experience and explore their own Jewish identities and to feel what it is like to be a part of a Jewish community is often impeded by their disability and/or the lack of knowledge on the part of the camp on how to include them.
As Director of Disabilities Initiatives at Foundation for Jewish Camp, I work with our camps to increase the number of campers with disabilities. I work with camps on investing in staffing and training of camp staff, developing vocational and life skills training programs and enhancing their physical accessibility to children with disabilities. FJC aims to ensure that campers in North America with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers. But what does inclusion at camp really look like? What are we, as a Jewish camp community, working towards?
Inclusion of children with disabilities at camp is the participation of such campers, to the greatest possible extent, in the full experience of a regular camp setting, alongside their peers. Campers with disabilities spend all of their time with campers without disabilities. The inclusive camp is structured in a way to allow for all campers to live and participate together while receiving appropriate supports and services based on their individual needs. Behavioral supports and accommodations are incorporated into daily living, often times under the guidance of an inclusion coordinator. The inclusion coordinator works closely with all staff to collectively provide and implement necessary accommodations and programmatic changes to achieve success for each camper.
Creating an inclusive environment also requires a philosophical shift so that all campers, regardless of abilities, will benefit. A dedication to the broad training of all staff to understand and work together in support of this vision is necessary. Camp-wide assessment of agency goals, programs, and activities within the camp’s overall mission will ensure that campers with varying abilities and needs would be able to fully participate in the life and culture of the camp.
Facilitating inclusion is more than building a ramp or providing extra staff at camp. It also has to do with making friendships possible by allowing campers with disabilities to fully participate in all of the activities that take place. This includes camp plays and dance competitions, as well as all of the other exciting sports, recreation, outdoor education, cultural arts, and social activities that take place during the summer months. Goals for each program need to be examined and revised so that camp becomes a place where individuals are allowed to thrive in all areas.
This inclusive approach will ultimately impact the entire community in many positive ways. One must ask the following types of questions: Is the appropriate goal to put on the perfect theatre performance with only the most competent actors participating? Must a finished product in the art shop look a certain way? and Does the blue team have to win every sports competition involving only the most talented athletes? Or is the value of the camp community to recognize attitude over aptitude? Every camper must have an opportunity to succeed and participate to their maximum extent.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM)! JDAM is “a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.” Inclusion at Jewish camp is a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Many of the camps we work with offer programs to campers with a wide range of disabilities. We are working to increase these opportunities, elevate staff training on inclusion, and increase community awareness about the inclusion programs that exist around them. To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.
Check back every Tuesday and Thursday in February for posts by camp directors, experts in the field, former campers, and more.
This blog post was reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily.
Thinking of sending your kids to Jewish summer camp (this year or in the future)? Not sure where to start or what you might want to keep in mind about the experience of your child, a child of interfaith parents? It’s possible you haven’t considered any of these questions yet, but a camp that may seem warm and fuzzy may not be the most schooled in how to project an open and welcoming atmosphere to interfaith families.
Here’s what Jane Larkin, InterfaithFamily parenting blogger, Jodi Bromberg, IFF President and Lindsey Silken, Editorial Director, suggest asking the camp director. (Of course, you’ll want to adapt these questions as appropriate for your family.) And once you’re ready to start searching for a welcoming camp, our resource page can help.
1. Do you welcome children of interfaith families at your camp?
2. Does the camp require that the child is being raised Jewish?
3. Can dual-faith or secular interfaith children qualify? What about children who are in the process of converting to Judaism? Does it matter which parent is Jewish?
4. Do you have a definition of who is considered Jewish by the camp and who is not? How is that communicated to staff and campers?
5. What’s the percentage of interfaith campers and counselors at your camp?
6. What training or education do administrative staff get on working with interfaith families?
7. What training or education do counselors or CITs get on working with interfaith families?
8. What programming is specifically done regarding Jewish education, ritual or practice? (Ask yourself: How “Jewish” do you want your child’s experience to be? There is a wide range of options.)
[Related questions to consider: Is the camp kosher or kosher-style? Is there Jewish education? Israel education? How frequent is it? Do the children pray? When? What aboutShabbat? Is the camp aligned with a Jewish denomination or movement? Are Jewish clergy on staff? Are they welcoming and accepting of interfaith families?]
9. Will I receive information on what my kids are doing each week, including any Hebrew words that they are learning (or any other Jewish education), so that I can understand and participate?
10. Do you do specific outreach to children of interfaith families, or anything specific to ensure that they are welcome at your camp? And what will you do to ensure that my children are welcome at camp?
11. What philosophy does the camp emphasize? For example, Jane’s son Sammy’s camp places a strong emphasis on personal growth and positive self-image. They accept Jewish kids of every race and ethnicity, from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds including many who are from interfaith homes, with learning differences, etc. The camp’s philosophy indicates that a significant amount of energy goes into making a broad spectrum of Jewish kids feel comfortable.
A few suggestions for parents:
1. Visit the camp. Go the summer before you are ready to send your child to see the camp in action. Take your child with you. Ask if the camp offers a family retreat weekend during the school year that your entire family can attend. The whole family can get a taste of the camp experience: see if they are comfortable with the Jewish aspect of the camp and meet other prospective camp families. Many families do this and friends their child makes during the weekend often plan to attend camp together or request to be in the same bunk during the summer.
2. Let your child experience overnight camp before they go to overnight camp for the summer. Many of the camps—especially those affiliated with a denomination or movement—offer weekend youth retreats for children, usually in third to fifth grade. These are kid-only experiences with camp staff. They are not billed as “check-out camp” but rather youth retreats so they are a mix of experienced campers and kids going for the first time. These outings are opportunities for children to “live” camp for 48 hours. If a child comes home excited about the experience, it is a good indication that they are ready to go to camp, and that the camp is a good fit.
3. Camp can be expensive. Determine what you can afford. If you need additional help, there are scholarships available for first time campers and some camps offer assistance for interfaith families. We recommend learning about Foundation for Jewish Camp’s programs: BunkConnect (matches eligible families with affordable camps) and One Happy Camper(need blind grants of up to $1,000 for first-time campers).
4. Does your child have a specific passion? Jewish summer camps have become hip to specialization. There are now Jewish sports, art and sci-tech focused camps. Today kids can have an interest-specific and Jewish camp experience at the same place.