Over the past three articles, we have looked at how Jewish summer camp can have a lifelong effect on a child’s Jewish identity – and how to know if your child is ready for camp. But we haven’t touched on another unforgettable element of summer camp – love, romance – and respect – under the summer sky.
When Rob Dixter went off to Jewish camp at the age of 11, he wasn’t preoccupied with genealogy or swimming or even baseball. Rob set his sights much higher. He wanted to meet his future wife while at camp – just like dad did. So for Rob, it became the summer of Mindy. “Mindy Vanksberg, I said. Mindy Vanksberg. Mindy Vanksberg. I thought if I said her name three times it might help me to get over the shock that a nice Jewish girl thought I was cute.”
Alas (SPOILER), Mindy was not Rob’s bashert. But hope springs eternal. “The following year I went back to camp all fired up and ready to try again. Mindy was there but we didn’t talk much, she once asked me to get off her toe. That was the summer I met Jordana. She was my next nice Jewish girl. There were a few more after that — all nice, all Jewish.”
My Romantic Summer Love Of 1959 / B’Nai Brith Camp/Winnipeg Beach/Gimli/Memories
Rob Dixter’s summer camp love may have been fleeting. For others, it has lasted a lifetime. When Bernie Kozlovsky was 18, he worked at the kitchen of the NCSY overnight camp in northeastern Maryland. Sixteen-year old Sonia Rosenbaum was a camper then. One magical evening, they spoke from sundown to sunrise on a boat. Since then they have shared over four decades together – and now also share six children and even more grandchildren.
Lauren Ben-Shoshan met her husband, Alon, as a counsellor at URJ Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Penn., in 2004. Ben-Shoshan, who is also a Jewish educator, told the Jewish News Syndicate’s Maayan Jaffe, “Camp is a positive place for Jewish learning, physical activity, and connecting with the outdoors. No one wants campers to feel bad because they didn’t find their spouse when they were 15, 19, or 22. But there is a covert understanding that [marriage is] a nice byproduct of Jewish summer camp, when it happens.”
“While camps are happy to promote the love stories that bloomed at camp, hookups at camp are not openly addressed,” writes Elise Sugarman at changethetalk.org. “When talking to my friends about their summer camp experiences, a common theme emerged in our discussions: the pressure of the hookup culture would begin before we even stepped foot at our various camps for the summer and felt prevalent from the first day of the session.”
Tools for Jewish summer camp professionals to address “Gender, Sex, and Power”
In 2017, the Moving Traditions organization conducted research related to romance and sexuality at 25 Jewish Camps.”There are real questions about what the role is of a Jewish camp vis-a-vis romance,” Rabbi Daniel Brenner, Moving Traditions’ chief of education and programming told the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer. “How do you be positive toward romance or sexuality, and at the same time not create a situation where it’s not clear where the boundaries are?”
The result of their research is the handbook, Gender, Sex, & Power at Jewish Summer Camp. It looks at trends in gender and sexuality, appropriate and inappropriate conversations, educating campers to prevent abuse. Its guidelines for bunk counsellors include:
- Protect each camper’s right to privacy.
- Challenge sexualized and sexist comments that campers or counsellors make.
- Discourage any forms of “sexual competition.” If you overhear a camper boasting about a hook-up or sexual act, help that camper to reflect on why they were boasting.
- When campers ask about things of a sexual nature, maintain privacy about your sexual experiences or desires.
- If you hear about a camper who is compelling, either by force or through social pressure, another camper to do something of a sexual nature, it is your responsibility to protect the camper under threat.
- Consider the ways that a camp social worker, nurse, rabbi, or other trusted adult might help you.
They have created the document, “Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action“ which is relevant to summer camp and year-round use.
As well, the Foundation for Jewish Camp has released its Shmira (guardian) Initiative. Among its goals are to educate and train Jewish camp staff on prevention of misconduct and harassment, and to create programs to change camp culture around sexuality and gender expression.
“Summer camps are a prime place to begin to change gender norms, to create partners and allies for boys and young men,” said FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman. “Camps are developing the future leaders of our Jewish community — in some sense these camps are an incubator of what the next generation of what Jewish communal leaders will be, and our young people really have the power to shift culture and to influence change.”