Inclusion: A Chessboard or an Open Tent?

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ResnickI am so inspired and enthused that Sigal and Haley chose the topic of inclusion—one of the core Jewish values that has driven me in my work as director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires—as the theme for this edition of Kesharim. I want to share my thoughts on this very important, very Jewish, and very “Camp” subject.

Many people have heard me compare Camp to a chessboard.  Camp, like the game of chess, has rules.  In order to function as it is supposed to, we must operate within the framework of those rules.  Nonetheless, inclusion, at its core, is by no means necessarily contrary to “the rules” of Camp.

I’ve always known, and know now with even more conviction, that we cannot accept everyone who applies to Camp. While Camp may not be the right fit for every Jewish child at every stage of life, we must nonetheless aim to be as inclusive as possible, in order to achieve our mission, which states that CRB has a commitment to inclusion. I have always worked hard to have as many parents as possible make the choice to send their children to Camp and subsequently, to meet the needs of all our campers. We invest time and energy to work with families, and sometimes their care teams, to help every child feel comfortable as a Ramahnik.

CRB is proud to be one of the first Jewish camps to have a fully integrative program where campers live in bunks with the support of additional, specially trained bunk counselors. The idea, driven by our commitment to inclusivity, is simple. Children in Breira are not singled out.

We recognize nonetheless that Breira may still not be the right fit for every camper who is in need of extra support. After our Breira director spends time with a child and the child’s parents, we decide together if CRB is an appropriate environment for the child.  When necessary, we have guided families to other Jewish camps that may better serve the child’s needs. The Ramah Tikvah programs often provide the right setting. At the core of our mission is the intention to make every summer experience a transformative Jewish experience. If we think that we cannot provide that for a family, it is our obligation to try to facilitate a better match for that child so that each and every Jewish child can experience Judaism in that way.

I have always felt a sense of pride that I run a camp in which inclusion is a priority. Camp is a place where every child can explore, take risks, grow and become the best version of themselves.  I am proud that we work to include as many children in this transformative Jewish experience as possible.

I welcome conversations on this topic and any others related to Camp. Please feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with me.