staff at Machane Lev Camp (summer of 2018)
Special to the JP&N
“When I first signed up to be part of the Staff team at Machane Lev, I did not think that we would be having the kind of impact on the Jewish LGBTQ+ community that we have seen,” says 24-year-old Gaston Lopez Ficher, who was a staff member last summer. Machane Lev is a one-week, Jewish overnight camp for children and youth who are both LGBTQ and Jewish.


The camp was founded by Canadian Young Judaea. Machane Lev literally means Camp Heart. It is a place where you can bring and be your whole heart. There are many ways to be Jewish, and there are many ways to be Queer; this place allows for both to happen at the same time. This camp is committed to being an inclusive Jewish summer camp, that celebrates identity, encourages creativity and enhances leadership skills while emphasizing the centrality of Israel and a love of the Jewish community.

“The camp is located in Gravenhurst, Ontario and it welcomes youth from all over North America. My goal is to be able to expose the Winnipeg community to this safer space” says Lopez Ficher. “I was able to see how youth found a place in their Jewish identity and their LGBTQ+ identity all at the same time.”

Last year the camp saw 24 youth from the ages of 8 to 17 heading out to this incredible space. This year, the goal is to continue to increase the reach and camper enrollment, with campers already registered from the United States and Israel. “This camp is needed by many youth in our local Jewish Winnipeg community. I believe that our community needs to be aware that if they know someone who would benefit from this camp, they are welcomed. The goal is to make this a Jewish LGBTQ+ national camp, which receives youth from all over the world,” says Gaston Lopez Ficher

“The camp allows for an intersectionality of the youth’s identity, ” says Lopez Ficher who admits to feeling that his two identities did not coincide when he was a teenager. “I didn’t have the opportunity to attend this camp as a youth, but now I am able to provide a space where every camper is celebrated for who they are.”

Machane Lev has all the amenities and activities of a regular camp, including dance, drama, sport, arts and crafts, daily swimming opportunities and water sports. In addition, it includes sing-a-longs of Jewish songs, teachings of Hebrew words and an experiential Jewish and Israeli education.

“The camp provides for moments where you can redefine how you feel, both as a Queer person and Jewish youth. More importantly, it allows youth to see that there is a place where their Jewish identity and their queer identity can co-exist, ” Lopez Ficher says.

Gaston Lopez Ficher, who will be the assistant program director at Machane Lev this summer, says that it was incredible to see how all of the campers changed over their short time at the camp. “The campers change right before your eyes. The change we are seeing is that they are becoming more comfortable with their gender expressions and Jewish identity” says Lopez Ficher. “But more importantly,” he adds, “the sleepaway camp allows for friendships to be made with individuals who are experiencing the same things you are—and that is something that cannot be described; it can only be felt.”

For more information regarding dates and rates, please contact Risa Epstein, the camp’s director, by email, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 Scholarships are available to any Jewish child in need and wishing to attend. The camp runs from August 18 until August 25, 2019.