Empowering Camp Staff and Counselors to Address Difficult Questions about Israel and Beyond

June 6, 2024Ellie Rudee

As we gear up for another unforgettable summer at URJ Camps - and with some camps already in full swing - we are reminded that today, more than ever, providing safe, nurturing spaces for our campers, counselors, and staff is of utmost importance. We are mindful of the complex and sensitive issues that our campers may be grappling with - especially this year -regarding Israel and antisemitism. You may be wondering how our camp staff and counselors are equipped to address these difficult questions.

Since Hamas' brutal attack on October 7th and the ensuing war, the need for dialogue is more important than ever. At URJ Camps, we acknowledge the diverse schools of thought within our community regarding Israel's actions and policies. While we continue to affirm our unwavering support for Israel as our Jewish homeland, embracing discussion and encouraging contemplation of differing viewpoints is a core tenet of Reform Judaism. We take pride in creating safe and nurturing environments where campers can safely explore their thoughts and feelings. Camp staff are trained to navigate difficult conversations with sensitivity and compassion while providing support and guidance.

Camp staff and counselors are trained to create environments that foster curiosity, respect, and healthy dialogue around complex topics. The URJ's Talk for a Change approach encourages us to honor others' perspectives and build bridges of understanding and communities of belonging without any goal of achieving agreement or sameness. This approach will be seamlessly integrated into various aspects of camp programming, including Jewish learning, social emotional learning, interpersonal relationship management, and community building. This approach shows campers that they can hold multiple truths simultaneously, fostering nuanced perspectives and strengthening empathy.

We know that young people's experiences at camp this season will extend far beyond the summer. What happens at camp often informs campers' deepest values into adulthood, including a love for Israel and the Jewish people. We are excited to welcome Israeli staff and campers to our communities this summer, providing unique opportunities for cultural exchange and understanding, as well as meaningful conversations about Israel and its complexities which will resonate long after they leave camp.

Years from now, we believe our children, teens, young adults, and older community members will look back on this time not only as a period of hardship, but also one of growth, learning, inspiration, empathy, and compassion. Though Israel is certainly front and center in our minds, this approach to dialogue goes far beyond the current conflict. Affirming diverse points of view by facilitating tough, yet important, conversations can be applied to topics including democracy, antisemitism, belonging, and more.

By providing a place of belonging for all, our approach creates space for the joy, healing, and growth that are so important to our camp environments. Camp brings the gift of simcha (joy) - of play, friendship, song, laughter, and all the magical moments that define these experiences. Despite the challenges we face, we shed much of the darkness and embrace the joys of Judaism and shared humanity at camp. Camp helps build resilience as we celebrate, learn, grow, and work together toward a brighter future.

We are endlessly proud of our camps' incredible staff, lay, and faculty leaders who are responsible for the care of our 15,000 campers this summer. We appreciate and trust them to create a sukkat shalom - a shelter of peace and belonging - for all our campers. We embrace our shared values as our guiding light as Jews, Israelis, lovers of Israel, and agents of change for a better world.

As we continue to launch our camp programming for 2024, we are proud of this community, and we look forward to another incredible summer at URJ Camps.

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