By Rabishaw and Sarah Millstein
At Reform community summer camps, we instill in campers the importance of kavod (respect). They learn that in our community, it is essential that we show respect to others so that we are inclusive of all people and everyone feels they can be themselves without fear of judgment.
As returning counselors at the Union for Reform Judaism’s URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech, we know this to be true. One of us, having felt so respected and able to be themselves without fear of judgment from peers last year, was comfortable enough to come out as nonbinary this summer. Camp is a space where everybody can feel brave enough to be who they truly are without fear of losing the respect they deserve. The environment we nurture first and foremost is one of respect.
During staff training we and the rest of the staff had an opportunity to hear from Keshet, a Jewish organization that using its resources and educational tools is devoted to creating a more inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our conversation with Keshet staff about LGBTQIA+ inclusion began with a discussion of seven core Jewish values and how they relate to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Among the seven were two values – kavod and al tifrosh min hatzibur (solidarity) that especially resonate with us here at Sci-Tech. In fact, kavod is one our camp’s six core values. Al tifrosh min hatzibur reminds us that we should not separate ourselves from others because we feel different and that we should do our best as a community to be inclusive of people who don’t necessarily fit the norm.
Though solidarity isn’t one of our central values at camp, it is closely related to our core value of kesher, or connection. Instead of letting people isolate themselves, we form relationships and bring people together, creating a more inclusive environment. We try to make every camper and staff member feel as connected as possible to our community. For example, last summer, a camper helped us create “Friday-Pride-Day,” an opportunity for everyone to show their pride as either a member or an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. The whole campus was covered in rainbows as we showed our support and solidarity.
Even though we believe our community is already inclusive and accepting, we all learned from our session with Keshet. Especially for many first-year staff members, the training was their first conversation about the LGBTQIA+ world. Many of our international staff, too, came away with a new grasp of the terminology that can be associated with one’s sexuality. All of us learned that it’s not possible to determine someone’s gender identity based on how they look. We also gained a deeper understanding of the importance of personal pronouns and made a commitment to ask people for their pronouns rather than assuming we know them.
The values and ideas raised during our session with Keshet are vital to ensuring that every one of us makes connections with our campers as allies and as valued members of this community. We believe that with the guidance of Keshet, we will continue to incorporate important Jewish values (and our own) into our camp community, maintaining it as a safe, accepting place for all.
Sarah Millstein, a URJ camper since the age of 9, is a counselor and songleader at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech East. In the fall, she will be a second-year student at Rutgers University, where she studies evolution and ecology. Rabishaw (they/them) is a fifth year counselor and tabletop role-playing game (RPG) specialist at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech East. They are a Foundation for Jewish Cornerstone Fellow. Rabishaw, who identifies as nonbinary, studies computer science during the year.