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Letter | Summer camp can wait this year

Dear editor:

I’m writing in response to Jodi Rudoren’s OpEd, “Let There Be Camp — please!,” which filled my Facebook feed on Sunday. When I write a piece that’s shared like that, I know that I’ve struck a nerve and this piece definitely did with all of the parents who are holding out hope that their kids’ summer camps will not be cancelled. I related — my daughter, who is 14 and goes to Ramah Day Camp, has been waiting for this year when she can be a counselor-in-training. It’s going to be yet another hard talk if it’s not safe to return to camp, and I will make sure she has space to feel her anger and sadness and to really grieve what she thought this summer was supposed to be.

In the six weeks we’ve been home together — my daughter, my husband and I — I have seen her compassion and understanding deepening in so many breath-taking ways. First, we received the devastating news that her brother — who is in a residential facility because of his complex behavioral and medical needs — could no longer come home to visit. She also can’t visit her grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease, who lives 15 minutes away in an assisted living facility. And she can’t return to finish 8th grade in a new school that she truly loves.

When we’ve talked about what’s hard about staying home, and especially not being able to be with her brother, we’ve been honest about the reality of the coronavirus. As someone living with Type 1 diabetes and who has had lymph nodes removed during cancer treatment, I am at high risk and my daughter gets that and what it could mean if any of us brought the virus home. She has friends, too, who have asthma and other autoimmune illnesses, and whose parents are also at risk because of health issues.

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I am sure that Rudoren has explained to her kids why quarantine is essential — even as each human being on the planet is struggling in this moment, in different kinds of ways, as a result. But because some people are especially vulnerable and our Jewish value of pikuach nefesh teaches us that the priority for us as a community is to value each human life, this value must guide our way as we respond to the virus.

In the OpEd, I think Rudoren was in a place of grieving for the summer she imagined for both her kids and herself, and lost sight of pikuach nefesh. The ideas for returning to camp sounded simplistic to me in a way that was highly insensitive to the suffering and loss of life that the virus causes. At a camp, a child could arrive without symptoms and only show the virus a few weeks later. What if a fellow bunkmate who has asthma catches the virus? What if it passes to a staffer whose partner at home is battling cancer?

I think we all need to sit more with our distress and imagine what other ways we can meet the needs that camp normally fulfills — for the campers, for their parents, for the Jewish world — if summer camp can’t safely happen this year.

Parenting a child with intense multiple disabilities has taught me to be creative and resilient in a way that I know may be hard for parents who haven’t walked in my shoes to imagine. We’ve had years where we could barely find a babysitter with appropriate training to stay with my son for several hours so we could go out to dinner — and yet our marriage is really, really strong. Thankfully, my husband and I have found ways to give each other breaks, to find late nights and very early mornings for intimacy, even to do our own marriage therapy by reading and discussing Harville Hendrix’s masterful book Getting The Love You Want together. There are always other ways — and those ways may surprise you with their beauty and power.

We’re in a place, each one of us, where we’re being pushed to discover the layers of our inner strength and resources — and this is a wonderful thing to model for and encourage in our kids. When I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 10, I was in the hospital for a week. A kind but tough nurse taught me to give myself insulin injections into an orange on day 1 and then said I had to shoot the insulin into my own arm on day 2. I was wrecked and terrified but needed to say goodbye to the world that wouldn’t exist for me anymore: my life without diabetes. I discovered a strength inside me that I hadn’t known before. In this universe of uncertainty and mystery, we all face those moments, when the world changes and we must adapt.

I pray that we emerge from this time as a community with deeper caring and empathy and with pride in how we have come together to protect those who are most vulnerable. This may mean grieving the summer we all are so looking forward to — but I believe that after grief comes transformation.

Camp is absolutely everything Rudoren describes — but the kids will be O.K. without it for one summer, and I bet they will emerge, with our guidance, full of new strengths.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Chief Program Officer

Jewish Learning Venture

Engage

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