In his latest piece for Commentary, writer Tal Fortgang examines the philosophy underlying the concept of “inclusion.” According to Fortgang, “inclusion” can be categorized into distinct categories of “collaborative inclusion” and “imposed inclusion.” Developed initially, collaborative inclusion contains the noble goal of promoting “the entry of as many kinds of people as possible into our institutions” while treating everyone with respect.
Most significantly, notes Fortgang, collaborative inclusion does not ask establishments to alter their most fundamental tenets. In recent years, an emerging outgrowth of collaborative inclusion is what Fortgang calls “imposed inclusion.”
Under imposed inclusion, organizations modify rules to conform with “minority factions,” eventually leading to what is described as “the homogenizing of all institutions according to the progressive view of the human person and the good.”
The number of groups subscribing to imposed inclusion appears with increasing frequency. Recently, the doctrine’s activist grip has reached many US Jewish summer camps and is manifesting in the enforcement of damaging policies related to gender ideology. The current implementation of rules involving mixed-biological gender housing is causing Jewish camps from varying ideological persuasions to take a position on the issue.
Indeed, new information cautioning against gender “affirming” therapies is prompting some US lawmakers and several European governments to limit child access to life-altering medicines and procedures.
Identity-based regulations is at odds with Jewish particularism
Beyond the personal implications, institutionalizing identity-based regulations is at odds with Jewish particularism and threatens to upend the role camps play in providing a welcoming space for children to cultivate Jewish pride through a carefree and warm environment.
The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) estimates that US Jewish overnight camps will welcome over 70,000 campers this summer. For many Jewish Americans, summer camp represents their sole religious touchstone. Information collected from the FJC annual 2022 camper satisfaction survey found that 92% of families reported “that overnight camp made their child feel a part of the larger Jewish community and peoplehood.”
According to FJC’s Find a Camp tool, 91 Jewish sleepaway camps now offer accommodations to “gender non-conforming” campers. Specifically, the 19 overnight camps denominationally connected to Reform Judaism have committed to placing campers in bunks based on a child’s preferred “gender identity” and not their biological sex.
Joining the Reform movement, Camp Ramah, a network of camps affiliated with Conservative Judaism, announced last year that it strives to “avoid heteronormative assumptions” and that its camps employ the latitude to house campers according to a child’s chosen “gender identity” rather than birth sex.
Other camps have since followed Ramah’s lead, with Seattle-based Camp Solomon Schechter recently releasing a statement informing parents that camper housing assignments may not be based on biological gender.
What’s more, the camp maintains that staff are not authorized to notify parents if their child(ren) decides during the summer to identify differently from how they do at home.
In fairness, these new bunking guidelines did not occur in a vacuum. For years, Jewish camps have been fostering a progressive gender orthodoxy by slowly loosening gender-specific labels on everything from Shabbat dress codes to bunk and bathroom labels.
RATHER THAN balance compassion with prudence, Jewish camps are committing to questionable policies that conflict with mounting evidence suggesting that most children experiencing gender distress eventually grow out of it without any intervention, with experts urging adults to resist consolidating behind “socially affirming” gender guidelines.
Abigail Shrier, author of the bestselling book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters draws on personal interviews and extensive research when detailing the rapid uptick in adolescent girls identifying as transgender.
Earlier this spring, protesters forced Shrier to move her event launching the Hebrew edition of her book out of Tel Aviv and into a smaller venue in Ramat Gan, where some attendees were turned away due to lack of space.
Further discrediting the wisdom behind bunking adjustments is the power of “social contagion,” which Shrier argues in her book is encouraging trans-identification among children. Citing data collected from a study on adolescent girls, Shrier details that the rate of trans-identifying girls with no previous history of gender dysphoria was markedly higher in “friend clusters.”
This finding lies at the crux of Jewish camps’ faulty housing decision. Immersing young children in co-ed cabins while tasking counselors with navigating complex discussions will lead to campers being collectively pressured to inherit a gender paradigm compatible with their bunkmates.
Jewish Americans rely on camps as a refuge where children can nurture their character in an area free from the cultural and political intensity consuming contemporary society. To align an agenda consistent with Fortgang’s collaborative inclusion definition, non-Orthodox Jewish camps should look to the Chabad movement’s model of acceptance.
The cohort of Chabad’s Camp Gan Israel summer camps represents the largest Jewish global camping network. Chabad’s leadership is resistant to ideological temptations because the movement’s framework rests on the strength of religious conviction. It’s precisely because of their foundational adherence to deepening a love for Judaism that barriers separating the observant from the non-observant children are easily dropped.
For their part, Chabad campers come from diverse religious, economic, and familial backgrounds and face struggles similar to those found among children attending non-Orthodox camps. Still, the only identity Chabad concerns itself with is instilling Jewish identity. It’s likely the reason behind the organization’s ability to attract hundreds of university and college students to a campus Shabbat dinner on any given Friday night. Whether campers or college students, Jewish Americans are tiring of the political posturing emanating from our institutions.
That Jewish camps are manipulating a “spirit of inclusivity” to allow campers to choose what they wear and where they sleep suggests that the latest Jewish organizational attempt aimed at minimizing traditional guardrails is no longer confined to the boardroom or synagogue.
Instead, US Jewry’s cultural fixations are impacting our children, whose personal safety and space for connections wilt as camps endeavor to become the latest in the line of Jewish establishments succumbing to damaging activist trends.
The author is an independent writer residing in New York.