Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Saturday,
Nov 01st

Camp Be’chol Lashon restores pride

E-mail Print PDF

Sarah Spencer (r), Camp Be’chol Lashon co-director, at summer camp with counselors Andrea Pressman and Reece Pressman.PETALUMA, Calif. — On a cool Sunday evening, Jewish campers with nervous smiles took to the stage one by one to perform poems they had composed on the theme of identity.

One girl riffed on being taunted for having “fuzzy eyebrows” and “bushy hair.”

Another rhymed about being told “You don’t look Jewish” too many times to count.

If this doesn’t sound like your typical summer camp fare, it’s because Camp Be’chol Lashon has a markedly different mandate than most Jewish camps.

Nestled in the misty hills of Marin County, the northern California camp is the country’s only Jewish sleepaway camp geared to Jews of color.

“Part of the goal is to make these kids feel normal in a Jewish context,” said Diane Tobin, the founder and executive director of the camp’s parent organization, the San Francisco-based nonprofit Be’chol Lashon, which promotes racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in Jewish life.

Tobin, 61, and her late husband, the eminent Jewish demographer Gary Tobin, founded the nonprofit in 2000, three years after adopting an African-American son.

Now entering its sixth season, the organization’s camp integrates traditional Jewish practice with educational activities that speak to the diversity of Jewish life around the globe.

EACH morning, after the more typical fare of Wiffle ball and field sports, campers gather clues about the country they will “travel” to that day before going through “Customs” and having their makeshift passports stamped.

Throughout the day, between kayaking and swimming in the pond, campers make food and crafts inspired by the particular country they are “visiting.”

During a JTA visit to the camp, campers spent an afternoon writing poems in an art room decorated with cultural items they had made, including woven baskets from Mexico and feathered raffia masks from Colombia.

Aaron Levy Samuels, a New York-based black-Jewish performance poet, had flown in for the day to facilitate the poetry workshop.

Samuels, 25, whose first poetry collection, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps, was published last fall by Write Bloody Publishing, said that growing up in Rhode Island, he and his brother were the only two black kids at their local synagogue.

The son of an African-American, Samuels said he identified with the struggles that Be’chol Lashon campers were going through and wished he could have attended such a camp.

Maia Campbell, 14, of San Francisco, who has attended Be’chol Lashon since its founding, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s been really cool because my synagogue is basically all white people,” said Campbell, whose mother is African-American. “So I saw that there are other people like me.”

The camp is not just for Jews of color, as evinced by one white camper’s poem about her identity as a “nerdy Jewish girl.” It’s also very much a family affair. Tobin’s son, Jonah, is a junior counselor and her daughter, Sarah Spencer, serves as the campco-director.

“The kids all come with very different stories about who they are and where they’ve come to be,” said Spencer, 38, a marriage and family therapist who is also the mother of two biracial children.

“Here they get to practice explaining who they are to one another and we help them to feel good about whatever that is.”

Savannah Henry, a 21-year-old counselor whose father is African-American, said that before her rabbi at Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, Calif., told her about Be’chol Lashon, she had spent a miserable summer at a more mainstream Jewish camp.

“I was the only Jew of color,” she said of her experience at a Reform Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa. “I just didn’t connect that well.”

When she discovered Be’chol Lashon four years ago, Henry’s outlook changed completely.

“If I had been a camper here, I would have fit in perfectly,” she said. “It’s definitely made me more of a proud Jew.”

 

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

WATCH: Tablet’s satirical in-flight ‘spiritual safety’ instructions

Julie Wiener A new video pokes fun at haredi Orthodox flight requests. ... [Link]

This Week in Jewish Farming: First frost

Ben Harris Most farmers don’t celebrate the death of their crops. But the arrival of the first sub-freezing night was a welcome respite after months of hard labor. ... [Link]

Eight Palestinians reported injured in Jerusalem-area clashes

Cnaan Liphshiz At least eight Palestinians were reportedly wounded in clashes with Israeli police the occurred shortly after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s urged all parties to practice restraint in Jerusale... [Link]

British Jewish school flunks tolerance test

Cnaan Liphshiz A British Jewish school failed government inspections on tolerance sparked by complaints that an emphasis on Islam in some public learning institutions has led to “a culture of intimidation.R... [Link]

Jewish school enrollment up 12 percent, fueled by haredi Orthodox growth

Uriel Heilman Enrollment in Haredi Orthodox schools us up sharply, while non-Orthodox schools are down, and New York and New Jersey have about 75 percent of all day school students nationwide. ... [Link]

Michael Jordan wades into the Obama-Bibi “sh*t” storm (sort of)

Ami Eden Obama’s on the receiving end this time — and from the most iconic athlete on the planet. ... [Link]

Pro-BDS Jewish group boycotts Brussels Jewish film festival

Cnaan Liphshiz A small, left-leaning Jewish organization pulled out of the Brussels Jewish Film Festival because of the involvement in the event of the Israeli and U.S. embassies. ... [Link]

Vietnam’s first Israeli film festival to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations

Cnaan Liphshiz A film festival in Vietnam will mark 20 years of diplomatic relations with Israel. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com