By Lori Zlotoff
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” These wise words come from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, which is derived from the Mishnah, or our oral Jewish law. This famous quote has guided and inspired generations of Jews over centuries to stand up for what is morally just and right, not just in their small corner of the world, but in the world at large. We have countless role models in our history of brave individuals who continued to stand up for what is right, even if it wasn’t the popular choice. We too at Harlam are not free to stand on the sidelines when there is work that needs to be done. And even more than that, we take seriously our position of leadership in the Reform movement to be change agents and help lead the charge in potential areas of growth.
One of those areas is taking a hard look at our implicit biases and internal racism that exists within an infrastructure that was built 63 years ago. Change at camp is hard, and learning that we have wronged our community in some way is devastating and sobering. But we must not be immune from making change when change is due. We must look inward and forward and challenge ourselves and each other to create a more inclusive and just community that truly values all people and celebrates the diversity that they bring to the table.
To that end, Harlam has been engaged in a year-long deep dive assessment into our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work, particularly as it pertains to how we are serving our JOC (Jews of Color), LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer. and more) campers and families, and our multifaith families. We started out with a JewV’nation Fellowship intensive and that has led us to the creation of a 20-person DEI task force made up of campers, staff, alumni, parents, faculty, and council members who help to represent these communities and bring voices to the table. Our work is well underway, and while we know that though it is far from being over, we are on the right track. One of the desires of the task force is to know what you, our Harlam community, may need. Perhaps it’s to tell us about your experience or to let us know an area of deficit that you’ve experienced. Please do not hesitate to reach out to myself at LZlotoff@URJ.org to set up a time to speak. We really want to hear from you.
Black History Month and JDAIM (Jewish Disability Advocacy and Awareness and Inclusion Month) both fall in February, as we look towards celebrating Purim. These three touchpoints in our calendar serve to remind us that change is afoot, if we can be brave enough to say the things that are hard to hear but are nonetheless true. And to be one of thousands that now have quoted Amanda Gorman:
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we are brave enough to see it
If only we are brave enough to be it.”
Lori Zlotoff is the Inclusion Coordinator at Camp Harlam. She lives with her family in Port Washington, NY, and is the proud mother of two Harlam campers.