CAMP IS VERY ENTERTAINING

Her name was Cheri. She was engaged to Keith and they were planning to marry. I met them in a Conversion to Judaism class that I was teaching. A relationship ensued between Cheri and Keith and me, in that they were totally dissatisfied with their Rabbi and asked if I would “sponsor them” on the road to Cheri’s conversion to Judaism and ultimately officiate at their wedding.  Other than the fact that Cheri broke her leg two weeks before the wedding and walked down the aisle with her leg in a cast, I will always remember a story Cheri told me about her childhood.

Cheri was raised in Brooklyn by a single parent. Her father abandoned her and her mother when Cherie was an infant. Cheri’s mother was Catholic. Yet, when Cheri was ready to attend Summer Camp, not one Catholic Camp in all of Brooklyn was prepared to respond to any and all pleas on the part of Cheri’s mother accept Cheri, in that Cheri’s mother didn’t have the necessary funds. Despite all attempts, virtually every Catholic Summer Camp in Brooklyn slammed the door in their face. There was, however, a Jewish Summer Camp in Brooklyn that did not slam the door in their face. This Jewish Summer Camp would in no way deny a young girl a camp experience. Her religious background and upbringing was not a factor.

I recently thought of Cheri when I read about Camp Nefesh based at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Louis, Missouri hosting refugee children. Regardless how many of us might feel about the current debacle taking place at our southern border, there are those in St. Louis who feel that the children of these refugees should not be denied a (day) camp experience. Nor are they alone.  Jewish Day Camps in Washington State, as well as in California, have adopted a similar approach toward the children of refugees.

However effusive our Yasher Koach is to these Jewish Day Camps who possess such concern and neshomeh (soul) for children of refugees in this country, I would also hope that Jewish Day Camps open their gates, their arms, and their hearts to children born into Jewish families who are in dire financial straits.  The Jewish Day School I attended no longer exists. The memories, however, live on. Among those memories are contemporaries of mine, born to Holocaust survivors who struggled to put food on the table. Yet, those contemporaries of mine were not in any way denied a Jewish education. And those contemporaries of mine had clothes to wear, even if those clothes were “hand-me-downs.” If a Jewish Day School can do this, there is no reason why a Jewish Day Camp cannot. Until Moshiach comes, the reality is that there will be those among our people who are living in poverty.

I have no idea if color wars and other similar activities are still in vogue at Summer Camps. I would hope however that the praiseworthy efforts of Camp Nefesh and other camps become a learning tool for the campers. Five years ago, a documentary was produced titled, “50 Children-The Rescue Mission of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus.” Very much attuned to the storm clouds brewing over Nazi Germany, the Krauses undertook to wrest 50 Jewish children from Vienna in the Spring of 1939. I believe that this documentary ought to be shown to campers – particularly on Tisha B’Av when the inyana d’yoma (Aramaic for topic for the day) ought to be discord among Jews – so that they be made aware of an antidote for the much too pervasive enmity that exists amongst Jewish groups. Shouldn’t the tenet Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) be inculcated into the minds and souls of the upcoming generation?

Last but not least, embracing the stranger must not be a 4 or 6-week mitzvah. I would hope that on Parents Day, the parents of the campers be sensitized to this Jewish value. To have a refugee family at your Shabbat or Festival family is meritorious; to have a “have-not” Jewish family at your Shabbat or Festival table is one beautiful mitzvah.

Kudos to Camp Nefesh for showing us that what they offer is more than “child’s play.” Perhaps Jewish families will follow suit throughout the year to show that Nefesh and Neshomeh are virtually interchangeable.

DENIERS AND DEFACERS

As one of literally a handful of rabbis who met with Professor Deborah Lipstadt last Friday morning, I should have been more attentive. While Ms. Lipstadt was explaining the difference between soft core Holocaust Denial and hard core Holocaust Denial, I couldn’t help but realize that Holocaust deniers and those who spray-paint Heil Hitler and swastikas on buildings are really two sides of the same coin. Both groups want to infuriate Jews by touching upon a most sensitive and volatile subject. Every time Jews respond (typically through contacting the police and reaching out to the media), the deniers and defacers are granted a victory. Accordingly, whether Ms. Lipstadt agrees or not, Jews must totally ignore both the deniers as well as the defacers. It’s high time that a completely different modus operandi be embraced.

Wiedergutmachung is the German term for reparations. Literally translated as making good again, Wiedergutmachung came to serve as the German word for reparations in 1953. It was an attempt on the part of the German government to reach out to Jews worldwide who somehow managed to show contempt to Hitler by surviving the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of Jews led by Menachem Begin staged a massive protest at the time. They were adamantly opposed to “blood money.” I would like to believe that I would have been one of those protesters – for a different reason, however. True Wiedergutmachung must not be limited to any financial arrangement. In retrospect, the nascent Israeli government should have extracted a pledge from German people throughout the world to confront deniers and defacers throughout the world.

“We love Israel” is the contemporary mantra taken up by countless Christians – Evangelicals and others. Personally, I embrace the Evangelicals and others and love them in return, regardless of the real and ultimate reason for their love. Christian lovers of Israel must bear in mind, however, that Israel was established as a homeland and a haven for the Jews while the chimneys at Auschwitz were still warm from turning our people into smoke. True love for the Jewish people is a sine qua non for true love for Israel. The two are inseparable. If Evangelical and other Christians truly love Israel, then they must take up the cudgel against deniers and defacers. Recent events in Whitefish, Montana serve as a case in point. Once again, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head when White Nationalist Whitefish resident Richard Spencer planned an armed march through the town of just over 6,000. Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Dalnes immediately denounced Spencer and his planned march. Evangelical Christians, along with others who profess strong love for Israel, should have descended upon White Fish delivering the following message: Either Spencer, leaves taking with him his vitriolic poison, or we stay and proceed to infuse mega doses of Christian love into Whitefish.

Americans are up in arms over refugees seeking to cross into this country. As a result, there are marches and demonstrations from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Regardless of how one feels about the topic, one would do well to ask the marchers and demonstrators, where is their concern for humanity when Holocaust deniers and defacers rear their ugly heads and carry out their despicable acts? Isn’t protesting acts of Holocaust denial, as well as demanding that justice be meted out for the defacing property with Nazi slogans, equally as necessary as the current cause in which they have involved themselves?

Germans and Evangelicals, as well as other Christians and concerned Americans: In addition to the status quo of Wiedergutmachung, love for Israel and marching and demonstrating for refugees, I ask that you speak out against the deniers and defacers. You might very well be surprised at what you are able to achieve.