Ah, sweet memories of starry night skies…standing in a circle of teenage peers, blanketed by the fragrant summer air, our souls lifted upward in heavenly bliss by the sounds of the guitar and our voices singing together in perfect unity. The words we sing express our overflowing, positive feelings about ourselves, our fellow community members, and our idealistic vision for a better world.
“Which Jewish summer camp is right for my child?”
We all have certain styles and habits, skills and abilities. In teams, social circles, family units, workplaces, etc., these differences naturally complement each other to form cooperative and supportive environments. The community works together essentially to balance each other out and to support each other based on their specific strengths, talents and styles.
“I have a son with special needs. I would love to feel like there would be a place for him at Camp Harlam.” The words stood out to me on the page as if it were wrapped in neon lights. As a professional staff, we were reviewing the results of the end of summer survey we give to parents. Amongst hundreds of comments on the page, this one resonated deep within my soul. As camp’s Inclusion Coordinator, it is my job and my privilege to work with campers of all abilities and give them the support and accommodations necessary to be successful at camp. But we need to find those campers, and hope they find us. Frankly, it’s the hardest part of my job. And here was an already established Harlam family that had a potential camper for us!
Inclusion cultivates a warm, safe, judgment-free zone. Children, who ordinarily may not be friends, embrace each other in friendship and kindness. What happens when it brings out the exclusive side? I’m better; you are weird. Can we break through that? How do bring back the judgment-free zone?
The day I got the email our family’s life changed. The president of our synagogue had forwarded it to me from a member who regularly donated to the Tikvah Family Camp program at Ramah in the Poconos. He thought that there might be families at our synagogue who would be interested in attending the program.
All of the major signposts of my life are linked to my attending Jewish residential camp at Camp Ramah, in Ojai, California. My career working with individuals with disabilities started at Ramah. Ramah is where I met my dearest friends. Ramah friends introduced me to my husband, so it was fitting that two years later we were married there.
Camp has been a magical time for all seven of our children. They’ve had a wide range of experiences from being campers to working as staff. Camp has enlarged my children’s circle of friends as well as provided a variety of new experiences. Shira will be joining her siblings next summer as she goes from being a camper to working at Camp Kaylie.
There are professions, there are jobs, and there are fields that you go into because it matches everything you value. I am a Jewish communal professional — I’ve been a camp counselor and unit head, a youth group director, a therapist and a middle school guidance counselor. I am constantly overwhelmed that people allow me into the most private and intimate parts of their lives. They trust me to listen and be supportive during some of their most vulnerable times, such as my job at URJ Camp Coleman.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM)! JDAIM is “is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them.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.