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Darchei Shalom: Jewish Camping in the midst of Non-Jewish Communities
by dropsofhoney
 Drops of Honey
Jul 27, 2012 | 1004 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
     A sad story was reported yesterday about some local residents vandalizing and intimidating Camp Bonim in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  There was anti-semitic name calling, damage and reckless driving through the camp.  The authorities acted appropriately and caught the troublemakers who ranged in age from 16 to 21.  They deserve to be prosecuted as adults because they could have really hurt someone and they are old enough to know better.  They may not like Jews but when they turned that in to dangerous action against them, they cross the line from free speech to criminal behavior and it cannot be tolerated. 

     That being said, I also hope this doesn't cause parents of Jewish kids around the country to allow irrational fears to influence them from sending or keeping their kids at Jewish camps.  Jewish camps have been in rural areas among largely non-Jewish populations since they were first started.  After all, we are largely an urban/suburban community so by definition few of us live in great numbers in rural areas.  Most Jewish camps have had only good relations with their neighbors too.  Sure, there have been circumstances of negative encounters between Jewish camps and their staffs and people who live all year round in the area of the camp.  But I've been working at and with Jewish camps for over fifteen years and in my experience the vast majority of those negative encounters are not anti-semitic in their origin.  There are people who behave poorly for lots of reasons out there and while that is not necessarily comforting, it also doesn't mean everyone is out to "get us" for being us.  I myself have encountered intentional trespassers, mentally unstable individuals, and even thieves at camps I've worked at BUT I've also encountered the same type of people in cities I've lived in too. 

     Camps are important parts of the communities they live in.  They usually hire local people for seasonal staff or as caretakers in the off-season.  They buy supplies from local merchants, engage local contractors and tradesmen for their facilities upkeep and patronize local businesses.  Good camps are good neighbors, and the reality is that camps need to have good relations not only with local law enforcement but with the surrounding town leaders too.  I worked at one camp where the director joined the local Rotary club in order to meet and network with the local business leaders.  He also made some of the land and buildings available in the off-season to local law enforcement so they could train for emergency scenarios.  Another camp I was involved with had a standing relationship with a local church soup kitchen to send over dining hall leftovers that could not be re-used rather throw them away.  Still another camp I was involved with invited local civic officials to lunch every summer in the dining hall so they could see the camp in action.  And let's not forget camps like Henry Jacobs in Mississippi that opened up during the off season at their own expense to be a housing and staging facility for the relief efforts after Hurricaine Katrina hit New Orleans.  These are all examples of contributing to the community we live in for the summer and becoming valued neighbors.

     The bottom line is that the Jewish concept of Darchei Shalom, paths of peace, teaches us that treating our non-Jewish neighbors well is a good step towards insuring they reciprocate.  I am not saying Camp Bonim was anything other than a good neighbor to their surrounding  community and they certainly did not deserve any of this mess under any circumstances.  For all I know, they are a beloved part of their rural community, but that is the point.  In this case some anti-semites did choose to terrorize a Jewish camp, but we need to remember that people do bad things to others, even to camps which are supposed to be idyllic, for a lot of reasons besides anti-semitism.  If our camps regularly act as good neighbors and contribute to the communities around them, they gain allies and support among their neighbors and promote a communal environment where morons like those who bothered Camp Bonim will be severly punished for their bad behavior towards a trusted neighbor.  And we need to keep sending our kids to camp even when a real problem arises somewhere like it did at Camp Bonim.  We send our kids to camp to teach them positive Jewish values and identity.  What do we teach them about the worth of those values and identity if we choose to keep them home because of some dim-wits' bad behavior? 

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