Eisner and Crane Lake Camps Stand Up to Bullying

by Louis Bordman

This was a day unlike any other in my 19 years with Eisner and Crane Lake Camps – in the most remarkable and beautiful way.

For years, our camp community has heard me speak about Eisner and Crane Lake Camps as under a “bubble.” We want camp to be a safe space where people can be themselves in all of their diversity and uniqueness, knowing they wouldn’t be judged.

Over the past year, it has become clear to me that we needed to do what we could to push the safety of that bubble out into the communities where our campers and staff live. We’ve heard story after story of kids being victimized by bullies – story after story of kids taking their own lives due to bullying. And we know that as Jews, we can’t stand idly by the suffering of our neighbors.

Our second-year Olim Fellows had an incredible experience at their retreat at Camp Coleman in the fall of 2012, where together we viewed the documentary “Bully,” about communities across the country and their struggles with the realities of bullying in their school systems. The Olim Fellows came away determined to create a day of programming which would inspire the campers and staff of Eisner and Crane Lake Camps to be the change we want to see in the world when it comes to bullying.

After months of planning, today was that day. Eisner and Crane Lake Camps created unique camp specific programming for our campers and staff.

Debby Shriber, the Crane Lake Camp Director along with the Olim Fellows, created their own unique day for the Crane Lake campers and staff. You can learn about how Crane Lake honored this day, by going to their blog.

I want to share my reflections of the day as the Director of Eisner Camp.

IMG_4746-FILEminimizerThe day began with the entire Eisner community in the Beit Tefilah, our outdoor sanctuary. It began with the Jewish story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, when hurtful words and actions tore apart a community that stood by rather than stood up. It began with the refrain of a brand new song that artist in residence, Alan Goodis, wrote with the help of Eisner campers all this week. “You can beat me up, tear me down, I will not hide/’Cause I got a feeling that everything will be alright.” Together, we set the stage for a day that would be about both acknowledging the realities of bullying and committing ourselves to changing the world through our actions.

From there, unit by unit, campers and staff experienced the incredible programming our Olim Fellows created. We reflected on the reality that, when we feel good about ourselves, we neither bully nor are susceptible to bullies. Each camper shared what made them proudest about themselves; each camper took the opportunity to practice finding the good in each person; each camper had a role-play experience of being the bully and someone who was being bullied, all of us learned how to stand up against bullies and stand up for victims of bullying.

Each unit also spent some incredible, emotional time with David Long. David and his wife Tina’s son Tyler lost his life to bullycide three and a half years ago after years of abuse and bullying. Their story was one of the five stories told in the “Bully” documentary. David shared the work that he and his foundation, “Everything Starts With 1,” are doing to teach young people about the scourge of bullying, and to teach educators of all kinds to respond effectively to that behavior. Mr. Long challenged all of us to be “upstanders” rather than “bystanders” – to use our voices to combat bullying wherever we encounter it, and to intervene rather than let our friends be victims of bullying.

IMG_4922-FILEminimizerOur campers responded deeply with his emotional presentation, asking questions about how they each can combat this behavior, sharing experiences of what it feels like to be the object of bullying, and beginning to imagine what it might look like to act against bullying back home. I was so proud of our Olim Fellows, our staff, and our faculty as they guided us through break-out discussions after these sessions to check in with how the kids had responded to the sessions; it was clear that although most kids had experienced some form of anti-bullying programming in their schools, this day felt different somehow – more personal because of David Long’s presentation, more real because of the incredible experience the Olim Fellows created for us all, more attainable because of the chance to put what we were learning immediately into action at Eisner Camp.

And then tonight, as Shabbat approached, we came together for Kabbalat Shabbat as a camp, to sing songs greeting Shabbat, and to reflect on the lessons we learned in this incredible day. Each camper had written on an index card a behavior that they weren’t proud of – some way in which they had excluded someone; something they had done with regards to bullying they wished they had done differently. We took those cards and burned them in a bonfire, affirming that we can let go of old patterns of behavior. We can change, we can begin that process here at camp and continue it back home.

So, too, each camper had written an oath on a piece of ribbon. Each camper wrote their own oath about what they would commit to do going forward. They each made a promise about how they would combat bullying everywhere they encountered it. Those oaths were tied to the edges of a permanent sukkah that our art and maintenance staff had created. Each of us then walked through that sukkah – a shelter of peace, as we made our way back to the Beit Tefillah for Erev Shabbat services lead beautifully by Bonim, our 4th and 5th grade campers.

“… don’t give up faith… you can do anything… you can be you… you can be whole…” These words, written by our campers and put to music by Alan Goodis, echoed through the Beit Tefillah as Shabbat began. You can read the lyrics to, You and I (Everything Will Be Alright), and sing along with our camp community.

Rabbi Jen Gubitz, from Temple Shir Tikvah in Wayland, MA, a faculty member at Eisner Camp wrote a special Mi Shebeirach for camp to recite during services.

Around us, among us, and perhaps within each of us, sit the bullied, the bully, the bystander, and the upstander. And understandably, we might feel a sense of pain, sadness, or brokenness around us, among us, and perhaps within each of us. And even if those feelings are not within us at this moment, even if we don’t know them, even if we don’t feel them firsthand – today we stand in each other’s shoes and we know that there is pain and sadness and brokenness. We know that for the bullied, the bully, the bystander, and the upstander – words hurt and words break, that bullying hurts and bullying breaks. And when things hurt and when things break, we cry, we fear, and we doubt ourselves.

And so tonight, we pray for healing. We pray for healing that softens hurt, healing that mends breaks, healing that dries tears, healing that calms fears, healing that eases and erases doubts. Together, we pray for healing of the bullied, we pray for healing of the bully, we pray for those who stand up and those who stand by. We pray for all of them and all of us.

Mi shebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu, may the One who blessed our ancestors – r’fa’einu v’ne’ra’fei, heal us and let us be healed. May the Source of strength renew our bodies, renew our spirits, and help us find courage to make firm our steps – that we might stand strong to hold up those cut down by bullying, stand strong to hold up ourselves when bullied, and stand strong when in our weakness, we ourselves become bullies.

M’kor r’fuah sh’leima – may the Source of complete healing, heal us, heal our friends and loved ones, and heal those for whom healing comes, but never fast enough.

And may we all, in time, become agents of healing to those around us, those among us, and perhaps, we pray, to that within each of us. And let us say, Amen.

Today was an extraordinary day at Eisner Camp, because we each resolved to push that bubble out – expand that sukkah of peace, that we might make the world better and safer because we’re in it.

Louis Bordman is Director of URJ Eisner Camp.

photos courtesy Eisner Camp