Shalom Life | March 23, 2015

Op-Ed: Let Tyler Enroll in Jewish Summer Camp

Ontario-based Camp Solelim's refusal of a non-Jewish teen is a direct contradiction of what Jewish values should represent

By: Daniel Koren

Published: March 16th, 2015 in News » World

Photo: Campers at Camp Solelim


While Judaism can be based on interpretation - different rabbis belonging to different sects will tell you different things - the consensus has usually remained that the religion is open to all who'd like to learn more about it, even for those members of other faiths.

In fact, many Jews will argue that the best way to promote and encourage Judaism is by introducing it to other cultures, establishing bonds, creating friendships, that sort of thing. While it's no secret that we do tend to travel in tight-knit circles, we've also (usually) embraced others into our community as well.

It isn't far-fetched to find non-Jews at Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, Passover dinners, or other such events, especially in the North American quarters of the Diaspora, where intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles has blossomed.

Even Israelis have taken notice of this trend, and have welcomed it; a new Birthright initiative, for example, beckons honeymooners to visit Israel, with the prerequisite being at least ONE person being Jewish.

Not two. One.

That's what makes a decision by Camp Solelim in Ontario all that perplexing, not to mention not entirely representative of core Jewish values, though, again, it depends on your understanding of what exactly Jewish values are. To me, at least, the decision is in complete contradiction of what Judaism should represent: unity, community, understanding, acceptance.

According to YorkRegion.com, a Richmond Hill teenager, Tyler Weir, was denied entry to the camp, where he hoped to spend the summer with his several Jewish friends, because of his faith, or lack thereof.

“The director said that he didn’t belong and that he would feel out of place and it would be very awkward for him,” Weir’s father Andrew was quoted as saying.

His son, however, was surprised at the camp's decision. After all, he attended Camp Shalom in 2014, where he learned and took in everything about Jewish religion and culture, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“When I went last year, I just felt really welcome and all my friends were there and it just made me really happy to fit in and have fun with my friends,” the teenager said to Global News Monday.

“I think it’s kind of unfair. I think whatever race or religion you are you should be able to go to any camp at any time.”

He does have a point. While it's presumed that Jewish summer camp has always been, well, for Jews, never at any time would you think a non-Jew would be denied if he enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions. If anything, with anti-Semitism and global attitudes towards Judaism and Israel at a high, it would be helpful to enrol teens like Tyler who enjoy what the religion represents, and show that the teachings of Judaism can be applied to all people, of all faiths.

In response to Andrew Weir, Camp Solelim, operated by the Canadian Young Judaea, said their mission is to nurture "Jewish identity and values," foster "a sense of pride and knowledge in Israel," and build "future Jewish leaders as part of its core."

“Our summer educational programming and training are geared entirely to these principles,” the statement continued.

But as a democracy where all people are, or should be, treated equally, isn't denying Tyler entry making a very negative statement about what the State of Israel represents? Furthermore, it seems detrimental to Israel's image for it to be equated to this camp which harbors an "Only Jews Allowed" mentality.

Coincidentally, with elections taking place tomorrow in Israel, this is one of the most important issues for Israeli voters, with parties like Jewish Home touting Israel as a "Jews first" nation rather than a home to all people. Yes, Israel is indeed the Jewish state, but does that mean that everyone else should be shunned?

With Isaac Herzog doing so well in the polls, it appears many do not believe so.

“As our mission is to instill Jewish pride and create future leaders of the Jewish community, clearly, it is only with a Jewish demographic that this can be accomplished,” Camp Solelim's statement to Andrew Weir concluded.

But is that statement necessarily true? Can't non-Jews also carry pride and respect for Judaism, just as we in the Diaspora respect holidays like Christmas and Easter?

While this is certainly an issue that will divide many in the Jewish community, there's no doubting the negative, elitist image it's sending to the international community. Given the current mentality many university students on American campuses maintain towards Israel, it seems it would be far more beneficial to allow Weir into the camp with open arms. Teach him about the wonderment of Judaism if he chooses to be involved. Let him learn and love our culture, as we do, and spread that love outwardly. Camp Solelim seems to be operating under an outdated and irrelevant point of view, one that should no longer pertain in today's society.

Jewish, non-Jewish, what's the difference? The values Weir would learn would prove useful to him in his adult life. Really, that's all that should matter. Let's hope this experience doesn't taint Weir's image of Judaism, and Israel, and doesn't deter him from applying to Jewish summer camps in the future.

Because believe me Tyler, there are many of us out there who'd simply love to have you.

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