Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

Jewish Summer Camps: “Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies”

November 14, 2009

The subtitle of this post is taken from the book Camp Camp. The book is a follow-up to the popular Bar Mitzvah Disco which chronicles outrageous Jewish rite of passage parties held between the 1960s and 1980s. yom sport (I have mentioned BMD to some of you and promise to bring it to campus soon.)  Both books depict a Jewish world very familiar to people who have  learned the facts of life – real and romantic – on the dance floors of our own bar/bat mitzvah circuits and during long summers spent away from home.

I spent 4 1/2 summers as a camper and 3 1/2 summers on staff at a Jewish overnight, summer camp.  For many Conservative Jews from the New York tri-state area, Camp Ramah was the Jewish summer camp.  While the vast majority of my hometown was Jewish, at camp everyone was really Jewish, at camp I was immersed in Jewish life from morning davening (prayers) until we said the sh’ema in bed at night (more on this tradition another time).  We had teachers from Israel and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  We used Hebrew words and phrases to refer to everything from the hadar ochel (dining hall) where we ate kosher meals, to the bet am (meeting halls) where we performed plays for one another entirely in Hebrew – one of my favorites, “Chaim & Yossi’s Excellent Adventure,” an adaptation from Bill & Ted.

Scan 1Recently, I read about the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey which noted three activities that most are most successful in instilling individuals with a sense of Jewish identity.  On the list –  attending Jewish Day School, traveling to Israel, and spending time at a Jewish summer camp .  It occurs to me that this experience was for me what the Birthright trips to Israel have become for many young Jews.  College students who never attended camp are not too late.  In many ways, experiencing camp as a staffer can be better than it is as a camper.  For one think, it makes cabin raids a whole lot easier.

Learn more about working at Jewish Summer Camps @ The Foundation for Jewish Summer Camps website, where you can search for a camp by name or region.  Who knows where you might go this summer!

Birthright Study Released

November 11, 2009

This story is a few days old, but still interesting.  Hopefully it will mean good news for the future of the program.

Brandeis University Releases Research on Impact of 10-Day Educational Trip to Israel
Monday, October 26, 2009

Press Release

The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University released “Generation Birthright Israel” today, a research study attesting to the profound and long-term impact on alumni of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. The study, which focuses on the early rounds of the 10-year-old project, documents participants’ strengthened connection to Israel, their greater sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and their increased interest in building Jewish families.

Since its launch in 2000, the Birthright Israel organization has provided free educational trips to Israel to 220,000 Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 from around the world. This first ever long-term study of the program shows that it is achieving its original objectives of closing the gap between Jewish young adults in the Diaspora and Israel, and strengthening participants’ sense of Jewish identity.

“In ten short years, Taglit-Birthright Israel has inspired a generation of young Jews to reconnect with Israel and the Jewish community,” said Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel. “With tens of thousands on our waiting list, we are well on our way to establishing an educational trip to Israel as a rite of passage in the Jewish life cycle. That’s going to be the story of our second decade.”

Read the report on the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Study

Who is a Jew? Who Decides?

November 8, 2009

With Kristallnacht less than 24 hours away, an article in today’s NYTimes about the admissions policy of a publicly-funded Jewish Day School in London seems timely.  Growing up, I was taught that the Nazis didn’t care how observant a Jew you were, they didn’t care if you ate pork and took communion at catholic Mass on Sundays.  If your mother was Jewish, you were Jewish.  If the Nazis came around again, I was warned, they wouldn’t care if you believed in god, went to temple on Shabbat, or ate cheeseburgers at McDonald’s.  If your mother was Jewish, you were Jewish.

The comedian David Cross tells a story that supports this idea.  Cross was born to Jewish parents but considers himself an atheist.   During a discussion about his identity, he once told a Rabbi that he doesn’t belive in god so he can’t possibly be Jewish.  After a bit of back and forth,the Rabbi asked, “Let me ask you this: Was your mother’s vagina Jewish?”  Cross’s telling of this story (which I can’t quite bring myself to link to here, but highly recommend for a thought-provoking listen and laugh), and his commentary on it, “Oh f#@*!  They got me on a technicality.  No matter what I believe in, it doesn’t matter.  Jew for life.  That’s it.  Judaism is the only religion in the world that won’t allow you to not be Jewish,” reflects the discomfort and questions that surround the matrilineal labeling tradition.

The lawsuit covered in “Who is a Jew?  Court Ruling In Britain Raises Question,” challenges the tradition of matrilineal descent as the sole signifier of Jewish identity.  (It should be noted that strict adherence to this categorization is mainly the business of Orthodox and Conservative Jews.  Reform, Reconstructionist, and Humanist Jewish communities have made space for other interpretations of the law found in Deuteronomy.)  The families who seek access to the school argue that it shouldn’t matter if a child’s mother is Jewish, if she was born a Jew or converted, and whether she converted in an Orthodox or Reform synagogue.  The child’s belief and observance should be all that matter.  Being Jewish, in other words, is a state of mind and practice, not of biology.  What do you think?