By Lori Zlotoff
In preparation for the holiday of Passover, I was recently engaged in some learning around the story of Exodus. In order to truly understand the spirit of the holiday and what the Israelites went through, we were asked to imagine a time we felt free. My mind immediately went to camp. Where else on earth can we truly be our best, real selves and know we will be loved, accepted, and celebrated for who we are and the contribution we make to our community? Free from outside stress and responsibilities, and with the time to dedicate to our own personal growth and interpersonal relationships, we are invited and encouraged to allow our gifts to shine. In the years since we wrote the Open and Safe statement that is now the hallmark of what makes Harlam stand out in the crowd, we have seen thousands of campers’ gifts shine. And it is because of the Open and Safe philosophy that has permeated everything we do, that Harlam stands out as a place that exemplifies inclusivity, acceptance, and truly welcomes everyone home. With the power of a true partnership between parents and camp behind them, countless campers have been able to find success at camp. And success at camp can lead to success at home and at school and in life. When we give children the gift of camp – especially those who have a hard time finding success elsewhere – we are giving them the chance to truly succeed in life.
Open & Safe
Harlam’s commitment to a community that welcomes and values everyone.
The Harlam community is established and reinforced as a sacred Kehillah (community). In keeping with the camp’s mission to be a true and holy Reform Jewish community, our leaders have recommitted themselves to making sure that Harlam is a true reflection of today’s families: we are all individuals of different sizes, different shapes, different colors, with different backgrounds, feelings, and of different beliefs. Because of that, we uphold one of our most cherished values, the belief that we are B’tzelem Elohim – created in God’s image.
For all people who are part of our community, we are dedicated to making Harlam an environment for them that will be open, understanding, accepting, and where bias and prejudice will not be tolerated. To meet this challenge, our leadership and members of our staff work with various organizations and professionals to receive training and to develop further strategies to establish greater sensitivity to people in all segments of the Jewish community that may be represented at Harlam. In addition, we continue to focus on facility and staffing improvements that further our success in creating a more inclusive camp program and facility. Examples include new ADA-accessible cabins and facilities, the establishment of gender-neutral restrooms, and an expanded Camper Care Team that features a dedicated Inclusion Coordinator to ensure that each member of our community is welcomed and supported regardless of any physical or intellectual disabilities, diagnoses, or challenges.
Harlam remains committed to supporting and representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in every way possible. In 2017, Harlam joined the Keshet-URJ Youth Leadership Project: Leading Your Jewish Community to Act for LGBTQ Inclusion, which is a year-long experience dedicated to enhancing the inclusion of the LGBTQ community at Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camps. We also stand proud with the Reform Movement in their passage of the resolution that affirms the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people within our community. We currently engage more than 30 members of our camp alumni, parent network, and lay community in a task force looking at LGBTQ needs and how Harlam can be as positive and proactive a place as possible for our LGBTQ youth and families.
We welcome and include transgender campers, CITs, and staff members in our community, who may see camp as a positive, integral part of developing a sense of identity and belonging. Campers live with the gender with which they identify, and along with the help of families and thoughtful supervision by staff, we strive to make this a positive experience for both the campers and their bunkmates. We continue to look at our facilities and make improvements to our site, such as adding single-stall bathrooms to public buildings and building private changing areas in bunks, to continue to ensure privacy for all who seek it. A focus on this topic during staff training allows us the time to give this the attention it needs with a variety of experts in the field.
For more than 30 years, the Reform Movement has also been at the forefront of the Jewish world ensuring a welcoming environment for interfaith families and their children. Any child from an interfaith family who is being raised as a Jew has a place at our camp. Our commitment to interfaith families is at the very core of who we are and what we strive to do every single day.
Harlam will be a place where each child, staff member, and any person who walks onto our idyllic campus should be safe and have the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves, able to enjoy all that our program has to offer.