Statement on LGBTQ+ and Gender Inclusiveness at Ramah New England
Shalom Ramah New England Community,I want to share with our Camp Ramah New England families our statement on LGBTQ+ and gender inclusiveness.Our camp is a living community that strives to include, support, and create a safe place for campers and staff alike. In 2016, I transmitted a letter outlining the values and vision of our camp’s leadership regarding inclusiveness (Click Here). This statement expands on that letter, continuing to address our camp’s philosophy related to gender and sexuality through a Jewish lens.After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Ramah’s return in 2021 was incredibly beneficial to our entire camp community, allowing our children to experience joy, be with friends, express who they are, and be part of a nurturing and vibrant Jewish community. We saw our campers and staff healing from the mental, emotional, social and spiritual challenges of the pandemic. We are proud that our camp population is diverse and that camp is a place where people feel comfortable to explore their identities. One of our core values is to affirm and accompany people on their own personal journeys. This value is rooted in the Jewish beliefs that each person is created in the image of God and is precious. Even in early Rabbinic times, Judaism contained the revolutionary idea that individuals have rights that should be protected and valued. Through our 2022 lens, the specifics of some of these laws may seem archaic, but the driving idea behind them still resonates to this day. It is this spirit that drives what we do today at Ramah and is reflected in recent teshuvot (legal opinions) adopted by the Conservative Movement.That Judaism is relevant and affirming of each individual is critical to keeping our campers and staff looking to their heritage as important in their lives and in their life decisions. This is not only important to those identifying as LGBTQ+ but also to their allies. Over the years, we have done much to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone, including those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ communities. Some of our training and programs directly address this topic, while others address our overarching responsibility to provide an inclusive environment for everyone.Prior to last summer, we created a standing staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. The committee meets with Michelle Sugarman, our Assistant Director and DEI coordinator, to help set goals and benchmarks for our community. This committee reports to our board on the work it is doing. We know that not every person fits into a gender binary. Although bunking and bunk activities are based on gender at camp, virtually all other programming is not. We have placed many markers at our physical plant, in our electronic communications, and in our programming to signal that camp is safe for everyone, including members of the non-binary and LGBTQ+ communities. For example, we have established the Keshet Club (“keshet” means “rainbow” in Hebrew) and added non-binary bathrooms in many public spaces throughout camp. The entire community benefits from promoting a safe and supportive environment. Our consulting psychologist, Dr. Alan Jacobson, likes to remind us that we need to create a safe community both for those who are expressing their identities and for those who are not yet expressing them. With the guidance of experts and through real life experience at camp, members of our senior staff and camper care team have deepened our understanding of gender and gender identity, of how these can be important dynamics in the lives of our campers, and of how we can create a welcoming environment for all members of our camp community. We know that each person’s personal journey is unique and that there can be different and changing expressions of identity as children and young adults travel their own paths. We believe that if we care for both the health and safety of each person and the Ramah community as a whole, we create a truly sacred space.In late spring, we will publish our family and staff handbooks. We update these handbooks each year and highlight important areas of change in a cover letter. For example, a few years ago, we took gender out of the equation when discussing the Shabbat dress code. Please keep an eye out for this email. Right now, we want to emphasize two key points:
- As with all camper care issues, please be in touch with us about any support your child may need in regard to their gender or sexual identity. It is critical that you contact us PRIOR to the summer. Working on these supports prior to the summer is the best way to ensure a successful camp experience.
- We want to make sure that camp families know that our Ramah community includes (and has included) members of the LGBTQ+ communities. It is likely, whether this year or in the future, that there will be members of our community who change how they identify and may be bunked differently than in previous summers. This is a private and personal process that they work through with our camper care team.
We are always open to conversation about what we do at camp. Todah Rabbah for being a part of our Ramah community. We look forward to a wonderful kayitz.Kol Tuv,Rabbi Ed Gelb (he/his/him)CEO