A year ago I decided our son needed to be around more Jewish kids and to learn about the Judaism that is closer to mine and Carol’s philosophy. I felt strongly that one particular camp would be the one. And so I started the process of seeing how I could find the funding to get Judah to C.J. Why C.J you ask? Well for me, it is multifaceted…not just one reason. First of all, I spent 10 summers there… not as a camper but as a staff member. I did attend their sister camp for the older kids when I was 15, so I wasn’t totally wide eyed when I started working here. During my first two summers at CJ (I was 18 and 19 years old) I was a Madricha (counselor for Offarim) and the remaining years I was the Omanut (art) specialist. As much as I did enjoy being a counselor, I really loved being the art specialist. Gosh, of course I did. It was what I was studying in college and it gave the opportunity to do my own art…was my outlet. And so, I worked hard to start a ceramics program and moved the art program to a bigger space to house the new kilns. (It’s so cool the art facility is still in tact as I left it with improvements. My work wasn’t in vein.) I loved camp and I cared about the well being of the art program. But for me there was another equal reason I have a special connection to this place. Camp was my salvation. It was a place I felt safe and where I never had to struggle. I didn’t have to worry about bills or my next meal. Camp was a safe place for me and a place I felt free and included. Many of my friends there knew my mom had died when I was 15. But the secret I held for many years was that my dad was abusive. Especially after my mom died, my life with my dad was nothing less than hellish. And so C.J was my place of refuge. It gave me many friends who taught me to be the person I am today. It educated me in ways life never did. It gave me Year Course and more life experiences. CJ made me realize I counted in this world and I could achieve any thing in my life as long as I worked hard. Of course some of that was a young person’s “I can conquer the world” ideal…but for me it allowed me to watch my peers and to see I deserved better. And for all of those things I am so thankful.
Now, as good as CJ was to me I must be honest about my last summer with them. That last summer I worked there, it was not one I like to remember. I have to mention it because it is so relevant as to why I knew Carol would not approve of sending our son to CJ. And I must be honest, I totally understand as I am still baffled how such a place…a place that was my home could betray me in that way.
It was the late 1990’s and Carol and I were dating. Because camp was one of my favorite places on earth I wanted Carol to see it…I wanted her to love it like I did. And so, I had permission for her to come to camp to spend every Shabbat with me. Because I was a specialist in charge of an activity that was not allowed to be done on Shabbat, I had that time off. Carol and I were good friends with the horse staff and a few of the Israeli’s. The Teva specialist has been our dear friend ever since. Anyway, Carol got to know camp well. She hadn’t converted to Judaism yet but she still learned many of the prayers and Israeli songs. We’d have tea with the two shaliach families. At first she enjoyed all of the things I loved about CJ…Shabbat, Havdallah. But what happened…the reality of us being a couple, the dark side was exposed and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how people’s attitudes changed when they realized Carol was not just my friend…I’m sure it became obvious as we were in love. I couldn’t believe how it was people who knew me for years and I called many of them friends could just start treating me as a freak. Carol and I never displayed any affection in public but that didn’t matter as staff members started horrible rumors about us. They’d laugh and whisper when we’d walk by and they’d get campers to ask me questions that were NOT appropriate. Even the Shaliach got in the hateful action…she made it clear that because I was gay I should not be around children. She demanded I be fired and even held meetings with staff members who felt the same way. I know this because our friend Bosmat, who was the teva specialist was the only one to stand up for us in those meetings. We were so grateful to her loyalty and can’t even begin to tell you the love we have for her and her family to this day. Not many have stood up for us over the years. Bosmat did and she never cared how that alienated her. If only we had more Bosmat’s that summer.
After many years at CJ I was shocked this could happen in a place I felt so comfortable. I felt betrayed. Carol was appalled by the behavior especially coming from a camp who prided themselves on being accepting. AND SO as I thought about sending our son to CJ, I knew Carol would not be happy. She rightfully still harbored anger. And folks, that’s not all. Back when it all happened I wrote a letter to the big Kohuna of Young Judaea about what happened to us, I gave examples of other staff members who’s opposite sex boy and girlfriends were allowed to come visit…I told him about how we were treated. W*E*L*L, I got a letter back from him blaming me for what happened…after all we chose to be out and never tried to hide who we were. I won’t even mention this director’s name as he is still very involved and well liked among Judaeans, But a mensch, this man is F*A*R from it. My movement I loved and was an integral a part of kicked me out like a piece of garbage and I was hurt. Carol was furious and never forgave them for what happened. AND SO It didn’t matter that it had been almost 20 years later. I knew Carol would NOT be happy with my decision to send Judah to that camp.
Listen, I knew Carol was right. Why would I want to send out kid to a camp that rejected his parents? Why would I want to support a place that didn’t support us. That very thing was the reason we no longer attended Synagogue in our own town. In fact at the time when many in our Jewish community turned against us, the only ones who embraced us was the the Rabbi and his wife from the Chabad house. Y’all, kindness can go a long way even when I know and understand their interpretation of Judaism. But, we didn’t have to justify who we were or argue about why we were. There, we just were.
AND SO, I knew the first thing I needed to do was to find out how and if CJ had changed. I had friends who told me it had but to be honest, they could not really know if it had as they weren’t us. Would they really be aware of the bigotries…would they even notice the subtle hatred? SO, my first course of business was to find out how GLBT staff and campers were treated at the camp. How would our son be treated because he has two moms? It was important to know the philosophy at camp had changed and negative behavior against GLBT would not be tolerated. After months of my friends assuring me it had changed they encouraged me to speak to the new director. After receiving a call one afternoon from the director and speaking to him for a good hour, I felt confident things were different. Gosh, it had been 20 years later and after all our kid now 11 had never even had an issue at school with having two moms. How people viewed us had changed. But, I knew my partner well…I knew she still would not like it ….she would not like sending Judah to a place that harbored such a horrible time for us. For me though, I couldn’t condemn CJ because of that one summer even as bad as it was for us. There was more to that place…and if they had changed I knew Judah would be a good fit there.
Without telling Carol I began the process of looking into scholarships to pay for camp. I knew there was no way we could pay for it. We had just bought a house…the dog of the neighborhood just so we could afford it. A lot of work needs to be done to the house and we both committed that any extra money would go towards our house to get it fixed up. SO, I knew sending Judah to camp would be a long shot. There was no reason to even worry Carol (or to tell Judah) if I couldn’t make it happen.
After a few months I had a plan of action. The only thing was it would meant we’d have to take a good amount we were using to fix up the house and put it towards camp. YIKES! It was time I told Carol my plan and to convince her of the benefits of sending Judah to this camp. I was nervous to say the least. I wanted her to be as excited as I was BUT I knew that was not going to be reality. Not only was I suggesting we send Judah to the camp that ostracized us BUT I was also saying we needed that money that was to go into our house. I won’t lie y’all. Carol was not happy with me. If Judah had not been excited about going, I know for sure I would have lost this battle. And y’all know what? Carol would have had a case no doubt.
Of course Carol reminded me of how we were treated and what that could do to Judah. She never wanted him to be treated badly or differently and up to now Judah hasn’t been. Listen, Carol wasn’t concerned with the kids. Judah knows how to handle that. After all Judah once said, ” All kids get teased…it’s just what it means to be a kid. But, it’s not worth my time to respond to the other kid (who’s doing the teasing). They’re dumb. I know they won’t go anywhere in life by being that way and I know I will. SO why bother getting upset or angry or anything else? After all you can’t change stupid.” Carol was confident Judah would be fine with the other kids. It was the adults that concerned her. For Carol it was not knowing the staff and trusting total strangers to care for our kid. Listen, I understood her fears. However, I felt confident that the director was supportive and would never allow anything to happen to our son.
Of course I had my fears. One being I never had been away from my kid for that long. And the other was Judah being in culture shock. With us living in a small Southern town it’s not easy raising our kid Jewish. It’s not easy being the only Jewish, lesbian couple raising a son. We went through many hard years not in the community at large but just in the Jewish community when we came out. It’s been very difficult to get over the meanness. And as I mentioned before one group who accepted us without question was the local Chabad group. But as nice as they are, their belief system is not ours. Their religiousness is not ours. It’s not the Judaism we belong to…it’s not our philosophy. I also know Judah feels like an outsider there. That was why I felt CJ would be good for him. I just knew if he could get used to all of the Hebrew and be comfortable with attending services…if he could just find his own purpose and place at camp, he’d love it as I did. AND who better to have as an addition to CJ than a child of the new generation of “family.”
I know people laugh at me and Carol for our worrying about our kid at camp. But, there is the reality here. He’s a kid who has two moms and that’s not like the other kids. We are learning from Judah every day. He has taught us his norm is having two moms. It’s just what it is. Because of that he does’t think so much about it as we do. He also doesn’t worry about it as much as we do. Even so, it’s still hard not to worry. Our kid is only 11. The world around him is not a sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya. He will hear other kids and adults say things and those things may possibly be hateful. Not knowing every staff member at CJ and not knowing how accepting they are, it’s hard to simply relax. For us it’s not just about our son being away from us. There is that added worry for us that most other parents don’t have to be concerned about when they send their kid to camp. For the most part our son has come through his 11 years unscathed from those bigotries. But, him being away in at place for nearly a month it’s difficult to not concern ourselves with what he may come across. We can only hope we have given him the proper skills, the courage and the strength to handle any situation that may come his way. Listen, when I was a kid I got teased for being Jewish and Carol did for wearing glasses. But y’all this is our son. It’s so different being on the parent side. OY is it hard!
I do want to thank Carol, my love, for allowing Judah this opportunity…for sacrificing. I know letting go was not easy and until he’s back home won’t be easy. Your bravery is beyond words as I know you have added fears that are justified. We can take a little comfort in knowing Judah was ready. We do have to put our faith in our kid and know that “we done good” preparing him. He wanted to go even though he was nervous. We’ve done a great job.. we should be proud how far he’s come from those days he couldn’t even walk into a crowded room let alone stand on a stage. Who would have thought Judah would go to a “strange” camp and feel comfortable even before we left. We have to try to focus on those good things.
AND SO, here we are not even at week one and these two Jewish moms are pacing the floor. You can rest assured we will continue to check the camp website every 5 minutes for pictures of our son. We will analyze every facial expression we see to make sure he is OK. We will look at his clothing to see if he’s changed them…please don’t let it be our kid who gets the camp talk about the importance of cleanliness. We will wait with bated breathe for a letter from our kid and complain every day we haven’t gotten one. After all what’s (MORE) worse for a kid than having one Jewish Momma? YEP, that would be to be THE kid who HAS TWO Jewish Momma’s!
P.S. My kid swore he would NOT do the following when he got to camp:
* Go horseback riding * Do any kind of dancing * Be on the stage * Participate in any kind of cheering * Do the climbing wall * The zip line *Anything art related * Singing * Wearing something silly
AND NOW NOTICE THE PHOTOS THAT CAMP CAPTURED OF MY KID: Not bad for his first week of never doing these things.
This is my first letter from Judah from camp that arrived on today (Tuesday, July 21). I already knew what chug Judah chose- I found out through another kid’s (who’s in the bunk) father. But, that’s all I knew. Y’all, I’m so glad he’s having an amazing time but gee whiz! Did he just HAVE to add the part about not missing me? REALLY, KID? Anyway, here it is…THE LETTER!