My Amazing Son Who Responds To His Jewish Camp

Context:  My mother is elderly, is chronically ill, and is under doctor’s orders to not travel. We decided to celebrate her in life and throw her a big “birthday” bash.  Relatives are coming from as far as Mexico to be at her side.  It is most certainly the last time she will have all of her children and grandchildren by her side to celebrate her life.  My children have attended Camp Ben Frankel since the oldest was age 10, he is now due to be a first year camp counselor at age 16. The camp administration has decided not to let him miss 2 days of an 8 day training session because they’ll be bonding and learning safety procedures. I offered to help train my son in safety procedures for the two days he’ll miss (what to do in case of lightening, etc).  But this was to no avail. I asked if he’d be excused for a funeral and they said they’d make accommodations for that, but to celebrate life one last time, “a party,” would not be okay. My son, knowing how this completely broke my heart, wrote this letter to camp administrators. I’m so incredibly proud of him, so if nothing comes of it, other than he wrote this letter…I can’t help but give gratitude for the process.  I didn’t give my son enough credit for these words…I’m humbled, honored…the tears are streaming from my face…

Dear Fraya,

I’m writing this E-mail because I don’t think my Mom is going to say this – you are completely missing the point. In your emails you used words such as “Birthday Party” to describe the event that we wish to attend. Not only is this inaccurate, it completely undertones the value of this event. This isn’t just some “Birthday Party.” It’s meant to be the last time my Grandma will ever be able to see her ENTIRE family alive. It’s about being able to celebrate my Grandma’s life while she is still alive, because the scary truth is, if I don’t go, the next time I will be in California will probably be her funeral. To our family, this isn’t a “Birthday Party,” it is like a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and to others in our family it is even more important and valuable than one. To define this event as a “Birthday Party” is not only severely incorrect, but just reflects a lack of understanding of what this means to my Mom and my Family.

I understand that missing two days is very inconvenient for the camp, but if I do go the plan is to come back on the 14th. If camp starts on the 21st that gives me 7 days to bond with the other counselor’s (whom I already know) and to learn the camp rules. I also understand that you have to think about the safety of the campers and I truly do respect that, but to tell me that missing two days of content is going to endanger my campers, and that I won’t be able to make up those two days of content, is absurd. If missing two days is truly going to put my campers at risk, then tell us what we’re missing, prove us wrong, because to us it sounds like you’re putting bonding time (with people I already know) over seeing my grandma for a possible last time, especially since you said that you would be able to handle it if I missed a few days for a family emergency. If anything I said at all reflects that I don’t understand the gravity of missing camp, then tell me exactly how missing camp will put my campers in danger, because I’m trying to understand your situation but I really don’t. To us, your situation sounds like an excuse compared to what could be the last time our entire family is united before my grandma dies.

The only point you’ve made in this argument that I’ve seen as valid is you mentioning the contract. Yes, I signed the contract saying that I would be there, and yes, technically by not going I would NOT be honoring my contract. But what is more important in life, and dare I say it, in Judaism – honoring a contract or honoring a family? I personally feel like family is a much more important concept in Judaism than honoring a contract, and I feel like that should also be a value a Jewish Camp respects. It shouldn’t be camp policy to turn someone down because they want to try to see their grandma one last time with their entire family. My family has already tried to change the date. They tried everything before making me aware of this date, and it just won’t work any other day. You mentioned that there would be an exception if there was a family crisis (funeral), but that only further reflected your lack of understanding towards our scenario. In saying this, you send the message that it’s more important to celebrate the life of someone when they are dead, rather than celebrating their life when they are alive. I feel like this contradicts many important values in Judaism. Rules and policies shouldn’t restrict the celebration of family, or the values of Judaism.

You could tell me that the fact that I’m putting family over camp is my decision and not the camp’s decision, but the point that we are trying to make is that it is camp’s policy that is forcing me to have to make a decision, and that is disgraceful. I shouldn’t have to choose between my two families, especially if the one forcing the decision is Jewish, but right now I’m being forced to all because in your eyes, two days of bonding is more important than seeing my entire family together one last time. Family is supposed to be an important value in Judaism and should not be a topic you can deescalate by calling our important gathering a mere “Birthday Party”. I hope this Email both makes our anger, and disappointment towards your decision clear, but also shows how we view your perspective. If you could help us better understand how your two days of training is more important than seeing a scattered family united one last time before my Grandma dies, then maybe this decision will be easier to make. If the only way you will excuse us is if we have a family emergency, then consider this a family emergency. That is how important this is.

Sincerely,
Ben

Dear Fraya,

I’m writing this E-mail because I don’t think my Mom is going to say this – you are completely missing the point. In your emails you used words such as “Birthday Party” to describe the event that we wish to attend. Not only is this inaccurate, it completely undertones the value of this event. This isn’t just some “Birthday Party.” It’s meant to be the last time my Grandma will ever be able to see her ENTIRE family alive. It’s about being able to celebrate my Grandma’s life while she is still alive, because the scary truth is, if I don’t go, the next time I will be in California will probably be her funeral. To our family, this isn’t a “Birthday Party,” it is like a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and to others in our family it is even more important and valuable than one. To define this event as a “Birthday Party” is not only severely incorrect, but just reflects a lack of understanding of what this means to my Mom and my Family.

I understand that missing two days is very inconvenient for the camp, but if I do go the plan is to come back on the 14th. If camp starts on the 21st that gives me 7 days to bond with the other counselor’s (whom I already know) and to learn the camp rules. I also understand that you have to think about the safety of the campers and I truly do respect that, but to tell me that missing two days of content is going to endanger my campers, and that I won’t be able to make up those two days of content, is absurd. If missing two days is truly going to put my campers at risk, then tell us what we’re missing, prove us wrong, because to us it sounds like you’re putting bonding time (with people I already know) over seeing my grandma for a possible last time, especially since you said that you would be able to handle it if I missed a few days for a family emergency. If anything I said at all reflects that I don’t understand the gravity of missing camp, then tell me exactly how missing camp will put my campers in danger, because I’m trying to understand your situation but I really don’t. To us, your situation sounds like an excuse compared to what could be the last time our entire family is united before my grandma dies.

The only point you’ve made in this argument that I’ve seen as valid is you mentioning the contract. Yes, I signed the contract saying that I would be there, and yes, technically by not going I would NOT be honoring my contract. But what is more important in life, and dare I say it, in Judaism – honoring a contract or honoring a family? I personally feel like family is a much more important concept in Judaism than honoring a contract, and I feel like that should also be a value a Jewish Camp respects. It shouldn’t be camp policy to turn someone down because they want to try to see their grandma one last time with their entire family. My family has already tried to change the date. They tried everything before making me aware of this date, and it just won’t work any other day. You mentioned that there would be an exception if there was a family crisis (funeral), but that only further reflected your lack of understanding towards our scenario. In saying this, you send the message that it’s more important to celebrate the life of someone when they are dead, rather than celebrating their life when they are alive. I feel like this contradicts many important values in Judaism. Rules and policies shouldn’t restrict the celebration of family, or the values of Judaism.

You could tell me that the fact that I’m putting family over camp is my decision and not the camp’s decision, but the point that we are trying to make is that it is camp’s policy that is forcing me to have to make a decision, and that is disgraceful. I shouldn’t have to choose between my two families, especially if the one forcing the decision is Jewish, but right now I’m being forced to all because in your eyes, two days of bonding is more important than seeing my entire family together one last time. Family is supposed to be an important value in Judaism and should not be a topic you can deescalate by calling our important gathering a mere “Birthday Party”. I hope this Email both makes our anger, and disappointment towards your decision clear, but also shows how we view your perspective. If you could help us better understand how your two days of training is more important than seeing a scattered family united one last time before my Grandma dies, then maybe this decision will be easier to make. If the only way you will excuse us is if we have a family emergency, then consider this a family emergency. That is how important this is.

Sincerely,
Ben

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One comment on “My Amazing Son Who Responds To His Jewish Camp

  1. amybunge says:

    I know he doesn’t need me to be, and still, “I am proud of you, Ben!”. My heart swells with emotion reading this. Ben is a special person because it is not everyone who speaks up when something is not right. Thank you for sharing this!

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