Max found a community of people he could relate to at Camp Ga'avah, run by the Barry and Florence Freidberg Jewish Community Center, a UJA partner.
Thanks, to Camp Ga’avah, it’s getting easier for LGBTQ kids to do exactly that.
Camp Ga’avah, the Hebrew word for “pride,” is a Jewish summer day camp for LGBTQ kids ages 6 to 17 that’s located at the UJA-owned Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds on Long Island. The camp is run by the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center, a UJA partner. Camp Ga’avah offers all gender bathrooms and changing areas, guest speakers, swimming, arts, and crafts, drama, and some sports.
“I never met people from the LGBTQ community,” says Max, now 13, who attended Camp Ga’avah last summer when the camp opened. “I thought it would be fun to talk to people who have similar issues I do and to have people to relate to.”
Camp Ga’avah began as a one-week program and has expanded this summer to four weeks. From the very first day, the camp sets out to create a safe space where campers can be themselves.
“As soon as a camper arrives, they’re given a name tag to fill out their names and pronouns and the counselor does the same thing,” explains Stephanie Abrams, director of camping at the Friedberg JCC.
As the camp continues, Stephanie says you can see the kids expressing themselves more freely. “Some campers change their names/pronouns over time, some don’t,” she notes. “As the days go by, some campers who started out dressing more conservatively will come wearing a rainbow shirt or makeup.”
Camp gave Max the confidence to become a more active member in the LGBTQ community. This year he became a founding member of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) in his middle school. Max was instrumental in writing proposals to the principal and Board of Education to receive funding for the group, which will start next fall with Max as president.
“Another camper at Ga’avah was president of the GSA at their school, and that gave me the idea,” Max says. “Before camp I didn’t know GSA’s existed and it made me want to start one.”
Camp Ga’avah’s summer program ends in August, but the campers keep their connections going through a year-long program Ga’avah offers. During this past year Camp Ga’avah’s activities included a Rosh Hashanah event and a Hanukkah party that asked the teens to bring donations to a LGBTQ homeless center for teens as a tikkun olam project. There are also regular meetups for the campers and separate group meetings for their parents.
“Camp Ga’avah is a very free space, always accepting of people,” Max says.
That’s why he’ll be back this summer.
Also This Summer: Queer Talmud Camp for Adults Opening on the East Coast
This July, SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva is launching a Queer Talmud Camp, with UJA’s support, at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. The five day camp for adults has run in the midwest and west coast over the last few years and is now bringing it’s yeshiva-style learning experience for the LGBTQ community and allies to the east coast.
The camp is a place where students can explore Judaism through a queer lens. Students can be brand new to the Talmud or on an advanced level. It’s a place that welcomes students to fall in love with the Jewish tradition and discover how it is smart, bold, and courageous.