By Deb Silverthorn
Summer fun at the Aaron Family JCC allows its staff and campers to make memories, create and design, swim, play sports and more. Camp Chai — Camp “Life” — lets them do just that while participating in programs by the Anti-Defamation League and the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (DHHRM), benefiting their lives long after their camp years.
“Camp is a place of great self-exploration where our children begin to figure out who they are, to act in their truest form. We’re thrilled to bring community agencies in to assist in infusing Jewish values into their lives,” said Josh Goldstein, the Aaron Family JCC director of camping services. “Camp is where we find lifelong friends and, through so many activities, learn what our values are and how we live them. Camp Upstander and No Place for Hate add to our very intentional programming and ruach.”
Two summers ago, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum enriched its programming by introducing Camp Upstander, a virtual program that reached more than 800 children around the country. With activities built around themes of embracing differences and spreading kindness, Museum educators provided crafts, reading and discussions on topics about what it means to be an Upstander.
“The Museum is delighted to provide age-appropriate activities to campers that explore themes of embracing differences and spreading kindness,” said Mary Pat Higgins, DHHRM president and CEO. “We’re grateful to Amazon for their support of this year’s program, which will instill in children the skills for them to become Upstanders in their community.”
Camp Upstander topics will include “Inspire Upstanders,” “Spreading Kindness,” “Embracing Differences,” “Honoring American Upstanders,” “Understanding Respect,” “Showing Gratitude” and “Celebrate Upstanders.”
“Our mission is always to bring Upstander behavior to the conversation, to teach kindness, building community and being nice,” said Charlotte Decoster, the Ackerman Family director of education at the museum. The partnership joins two summer camps that have similar values and missions. “Our Camp Upstander was an incredible success, and we didn’t want to lose the opportunity to share those messages to our young ones now that people are, for the most part, offline.
“The universe had us sync up with the J and we have been welcomed with open arms for a home to host our program,” said Decoster. “Our absolutely dedicated Museum educators will, with the J team, bring their charm, creativity and dedication to instill these skills and values.”
Laura Miranda, the Museum educator, and Dr. Maria Guadalupe Castaneda, the assistant Museum educator, will bring age-appropriate activities and provide Camp Chai staff with exercises to weave into their regular programming.
“Our kids need to know what words mean, how to intervene in a difficult moment and that being an Upstander means being a part of the issues we face in life. No one is ever too young to be an Upstander,” said Tara Ohayon, director of Camp Chai.
Ohayon first connected with the education after Jolene Risch, whose family has been involved in the J for years, invited her to visit the Museum.
“In addition to 45-minute weekly sessions with Museum educators, we will use those lessons to build and enhance our already meaningful program, the meaning of it all becoming a part of our daily language and culture,” Ohayon said.
The inclusion of Camp Upstander at Camp Chai, which is planned for other J programs in the future, meets the principles J camps have always held. Since 2012, the J and the Anti-Defamation League have partnered to bring the latter’s No Place for Hate message to campers and staff.
“Our kids and staff sign a pledge to do their part and we bring the message into activities throughout the summer,” said Laura Seymour, the J’s camp director emeritus and director of Jewish Experiential Learning. “For our counselors, it has meant learning how to act and react. If a camper acts mean, or talks mean, we say, ‘We are a No Place for Hate camp and that’s not how we act.’ We are all always learning.
“We focus our values on what that behavior looks like to a child whether they are 6 or 16 — and, frankly, what it means at home to parents,” Seymour said. “We want everyone to understand our values and what they mean in action. Bringing Camp Upstander, No Place for Hate and other curricula to camp in a fun, spirited manner is our responsibility.”
Already, over 1.4 million students at more than 1,800 schools are learning how to take action against bias and bullying, with 100,000-plus educators sharing the “No Place for Hate” message. The Aaron Family JCC is setting the bar as the first in the Texoma region to bring the program into its summer camps.
“That the J has brought our program, and that of the Museum, to our community’s children is incredible,” said Cheryl Drazin, the vice president of the ADL’s Central Division. “Our programs are complementary, and the J’s camps are the right place for them. It makes sense with the framework allowing the building of culture, and this fantastic investment will pay off in dividends.
“In adopting No Place for Hate, J’s camps are trailblazers and we’re proud of our relationship and what has come of it for our young people,” said Sherasa Thomas, the ADL Texoma Region director of education. “While an abbreviated program, it is not at all short on substance and we believe it to be especially impactful for the campers and their counselors who serve as mentors.”
The J’s programs are full of opportunities for the campers to realize their full potential.
“Camp is about creating and learning in a relaxed and spirited arena and, through that, we are always wanting to do our part in helping to raise wonderful human beings,” said the JCC’s CEO Artie Allen. “Through these programs we are helping the next generation learn to speak against all kinds of hate and to stand up — to be Upstanders in every way — for all those around them.”
Camp at the J brings art, sports, color wars, relationship-building with lessons about who we are as a people and who we hope our people will be in the generations to come.