New Effort Tackles Gender, Sex and Power at Jewish Camp

A new initiative to prevent harassment and abuse, sexist language and behavior in the camp community has been lauched by Foundation for Jewish Camp. The announcement was made at its annual Leaders Assembly.

The “Shmira Initiative” aims to change camp culture on all levels, implementing a shift in staff programming, training, policy and enforcement around issues of gender, sex and power. Shmira, in Hebrew and in the vernacular of Jewish summer camp, means guard duty, embodying the social and individual responsibility every community member has to ensure a safe environment.

“The #MeToo movement has emboldened victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward and tell their stories, shining a new spotlight on crimes of child abuse. Through the ‘Shmira Initiative,’ our camps and communities will be better equipped to address these issues head on, with immediate action in conjunction with parents and law enforcement authorities,” said Marina Lewin, Chief Operating Officer of Foundation for Jewish Camp. “Jewish institutions have a chance to define their prevention and response plans – and lead the discussion on culture change in our community. Jewish camp must be a safe space. Together, we can build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement to safeguard our community.”

The goals of the initiative include:

  • Educating and training Jewish camp staff on prevention
  • Identification and reporting of sexual misconduct at camp
  • Providing resources and training to camp directors and boards concerning policies for preventing and confronting sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Creating programs and materials to change camp culture and language around sexuality and gender expression

FJC will invest an initial $100,000 to support the development of the initiative’s primary components, including:

Training for Counselors and Staff – FJC will offer regional camp staff trainings in advance of this summer and next. Throughout the year on an ongoing basis, materials and trainings will be incorporated into the curriculum of FJC’s professional development and leadership programs, including Cornerstone Fellowships (for returning counselors), Yitro Leadership Program (for assistant and associate directors), and Executive Leadership Institute (ELI).

Virtual Learning for Jewish Camp and Movement Leadership – Beginning earlier this year, FJC is hosting a webinar training series on procedures regarding sexual harassment reporting, intervention and prevention, with leading experts. Targeted to support camp staff in advance of summer 2018, this webinar series is open to camp directors and lay leaders focusing on the legal and human resources aspects of sexual harassment among adults.

Education and Culture Change for Campers – FJC staff will work with experts to develop a national campaign to continue the discussion around issues of gender, sex and power in the camp community. The campaign will highlight the cultural changes FJC is promoting in camps, including posters and stickers for bunks, and online resources including talking points for parents to get involved. Messages will support campers and counselors in calling out sexual pressure and misconduct, as well as homophobic language and bullying with the goal of building a common language of consent and care at camp.