Jewish camp reassures families amid ‘social media offensive’ over inclusion of trans kids

The identity of the person behind “Libs of Tiktok,” Chaya Raichik, an Orthodox Jewish woman based in Los Angeles, was discovered by Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz in April.

 TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)
TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)

(JTA) — A Jewish summer camp in southern California is reassuring families after a prominent anti-LGBT+ Twitter account, Libs of TikTok, called attention to a year-old “diversity and inclusion” statement on its website.

“Camp Ramah, which owns tens of camps across the country, announced they are housing kids according to their gender identity rather than birth sex,” the account tweeted Wednesday afternoon. It linked to a document published by Camp Ramah in California explaining how the camp would include staff and campers with different religious backgrounds, family structures, gender identities and more.

The tweet was standard fare for Libs of TikTok, which has amassed 1.3 million followers for its stream of mostly anti-LGBT+ content, much of which aims to generate outrage about how public schools and individual educators teach about gender and sexuality. The account’s growth has dovetailed with a broad push by conservative lawmakers in many states to restrict medical care for trans children, penalize their parents or limit their participation in school activities, including sports.

The identity of the person behind “Libs of Tiktok,” Chaya Raichik, an Orthodox Jewish woman based in Los Angeles, was discovered by Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz in April. In an in-depth report, Lorenz detailed how Raichik’s account can set the agenda for conservative personalities as well as online trolls, who have inundated some of the people the account has featured with harassment and even death threats.

Exactly what that has looked like for Camp Ramah in California is not clear. Directors Rabbi Joe Menashe and Ariella Moss Peterseil told parents by email Thursday that they were aware of a “social media offensive” against the camp and had taken steps to ensure security.

 It's completely unrealistic to prevent our youth from using TikTok. (credit: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash) It's completely unrealistic to prevent our youth from using TikTok. (credit: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash)

“We have no reason to believe there is any specific threat; however, we are responding and communicating with you in line with our commitment to transparency,” they wrote to families of the hundreds of campers spending the summer at the camp, located in Ojai, California.

“Camp Ramah, which owns tens of camps across the country, announced they are housing kids according to their gender identity rather than birth sex.”

Libs of TikTok

“Please know that camp continues to run seamlessly for our chanichim (campers) and tzevet (staff), and we are in contact with our security partners out of an abundance of caution,” they added.

Reached at camp late Thursday, Menashe told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We are focused on providing camp for our community at this time and have no comment.”

Ramah is the Conservative movement of Judaism’s summer camp network, and the National Ramah Commission operates 10 overnight camps and five day camps in the United States and Canada.

Each Ramah camp sets its own approach to gender diversity and inclusion, according to the National Ramah Commission. Ramah New England, for example, noted in a diversity statement published in April that some of its campers might identify with a different gender than they had in the past, and might therefore be assigned to a different bunk in the future.

The statement Raichik referred to from Ramah in California is not new. It was uploaded to the camp’s website in April 2021, and the section about sexual orientation and gender diversity represents just a small portion. It says the camp is committed to creating a “safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ identified kids, staff, and parents” and also acknowledges that adjusting to the needs of transgender campers may be challenging for some.

“We recognize that this may represent a ‘learning zone’ for some of our families,” the statement said.

Ramah is far from the only camp to have also sought to be more inclusive of children who are transgender, nonbinary or otherwise gender non-conforming; some Jewish camps have offered all-gender or transgender-friendly housing since at least 2016, and alums of Jewish camps opened a new camp this year serving exclusively transgender children, from all religious backgrounds.

Calling out others

Libs of TikTok has called out some of the others, too.

“Camp Akita in Ohio, an accredited camp with @ACAcamps, is housing kids based on their gender identity,” the account tweeted on July 4. “Parents won’t be notified if their child switches cabins or if their kid’s counselor or bunkmates, who sleep in their cabin, identify as transgender.”

While many of the responses to the Libs of TikTok post about Camp Ramah mocked the camp or slammed it for its approach to gender and sexuality, others replied with a different take.

“Hi. Parent of three #Ramah campers and I couldn’t be prouder of their efforts to support LGBTQ youth,” wrote an account operated by a woman in Phoenix. “And you know what else? It doesn’t bother my kids because camp has fostered their sense of community and inclusion. You should consider it.”