Summer camp is a great opportunity to spend vacation learning something new and breaking a routine. No matter what type of camp, meeting new people is part of the experience.
According to Amit Weitzer, executive director at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Mich., many camps are committed to creating diverse communities to encourage campers to interact with kids outside of their typical social circles. This is especially true with Jewish camps, she said.
“Diverse camp culture is critical in our work to shape the next generation of Jewish leaders to be respectful, humble and curious in their work to make the world a more just and peaceful place,” Weitzer explained. “We’re working to be proactive in our work to build a supportive, rich and diverse Jewish community.”
Whether it’s gender, sexual orientation, race, ability or religious affiliation, Weitzer said encouraging the sharing of personal affiliations is key to an understanding and accepting camp experience.
“We encourage campers to share their gender pronouns when getting to know one another, as we want to be sure all campers are addressed in a way that honors their identity,” she said. “We discuss ability and the various accommodations that we all may need to do our best learning and growing. Our staff training includes a focus on racial justice and we affirm Jewish racial and ethnic diversity through formal and information camp education.”
Weitzer said staff also get training on celebrating the diversity interfaith families bring to the camp community.
“We’re still learning and growing ourselves and always eager for feedback and opportunities to build a more inclusive, welcoming and affirming camp culture,” she added.
Camp Tavor is “particularly proud” of its “strong roots” in cultural Judaism and creating opportunities for campers to connect through Jewish culture and peoplehood, Weitzer said.
“As a pluralist camp, we have an incredible opportunity to showcase a variety of expressions of observances and culture through our camp programs,” she said. “Last summer, we organized a special Shabbat in which campers could choose among a variety of observances to welcome Shabbat before all joining together for our Shabbat dinner.”
At the special Shabbat, Weitzer said campers and staff were able to showcase their traditions, allowing them to explore the variety of cultures present in the Camp Tavor community.
“Ultimately, we’ve seen that our campers having opportunities to experience a wide spectrum of Jewish culture will grow into Jewish adults who have confidence, curiosity and creativity in their expressions of their Judaism, and we love that,” she noted. “When kids feel like they can truly own their Judaism and make it their own, it aids their resilience as Jews and people.”
Allowing varied experiences and cultural and lifestyle exchanges at camp makes for a more realistic camp. Weitzer said making sure everyone feels represented and accounted for mirrors the real world, where campers are likely to come in contact with someone different than them daily.
“A mentor of mine is famous for saying that camp is the ‘most real place there is,’” she recalled. “And it is true. While a magical world away from home communities, camp provides unmatched opportunities for connection, community building and opportunities to develop critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills that are essential in our lives back home. We have unparalleled opportunities to dig deep with people we might otherwise not have the opportunity to meet and learn from.”