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How Jewish summer camp became a refuge for LGBTQ+ youth

(JTA) — These past few weeks, many parents in my circle have been counting pairs of socks, labeling them with their kids’ names and packing duffle bags as they prepare to send their kids to summer camp. It’s an exciting week for parents and kids alike. This year, it’s also potentially lifesaving.

Saving a life is of the highest import in Jewish law, and that value — pikuah nefesh — makes breaking many other laws possible, even necessary, for the purpose of saving a life. This year, it is American law and the fear-based climate igniting new local and national campaigns targeting LGBTQ+ people, and particularly transgender youth, that is posing a significant threat to the wellbeing and lives of some Jewish teens.

Camp has always offered a refuge to teens. The Jewish community’s investment in Jewish summer camp is also an investment in people who are at the cutting edge of creating transformative, affirmative, creative Jewish spaces. LGBTQ+ and ally staff are using their creativity and passion to ensure that their institutions are vehicles for hatzalah — for saving lives and for the thriving of teens of all gender and sexual identities, and those still in the very developmentally appropriate process of experimenting and figuring out who they are and might be.

Last Sunday, I spent two hours as part of a Zoom training for counselors and camp professionals from Jewish summer camps from all over the country. Each of them will be running Moving Traditions’ Tzelem teen groups as an elective to provide LGBTQ+ teens with a dedicated safe, sacred space to explore and celebrate the various ways that Judaism and Jewish community can honor them as who they are — human beings created in the image of God, B’tzelem Elohim.

Among the things we discussed was how staff will have to navigate the intricacies of new legislation while also staying true to their ethics and values. At some camps, division heads and counselors — like school teachers in Florida — will have to engage in Talmudic-like legal contortions to inform trans campers that they see them but cannot call them by their pronouns without informing their parents because of the new laws. Camp leaders will also have to decide how to talk to campers — and to their often politically diverse parent bodies in ways that are educational, compassionate and clear, not an easy task in such a divisive, fear-fueled national climate.

I’m glad to say that this is happening, thanks to the many brave and committed Jewish educators and camp leaders who are answering this call. Eight years ago, I spearheaded the creation of Tzelem by Moving Traditions through a collaboration with Keshet. Moving Traditions already had a long history of running Rosh Hodesh groups for girls and Shevet for boys: transformative, small, mentor-led affinity groups that support teens  to build resilience, a strong sense of self and the foundation of a life-long Jewish community. I believed that for some teens, a LGBTQ+ or specifically trans and non-binary affinity space and mentor would be the best way to ensure that the positive outcomes of Rosh Hodesh groups and Shevet were extending to LGBTQ+ teens as well.

The board and staff centered their educational work on the experience of listening and learning from non-binary, transgender and LGBQ+ youth. Doing this work takes moving beyond polarized positions and opening ourselves up to the possibility that God’s image (and God for that matter) is much more varied than we ever imagined.

Charles M. Blow wrote in the New York Times recently about the migration of LGBTQ kids and their families from states with discriminatory laws to states with protections — and the potential for more of these internal American political refugees. Jewish educators who work with Moving Traditions have been sharing their own painful decisions to move to protect their family members. As they move, they leave behind friends and family who can’t relocate and drain their communities of their talents and some of the amazing kids who used to be part of the tapestry of Jewish youth groups, Hebrew schools and friendship groups in the communities where they lived. Many Jews with their own ancestral trauma joke with one another about never setting down roots too strongly, that they keep one suitcase packed. But this isn’t a joke and it’s not the past — it’s real and it’s happening right now.

This is a moment of crisis to which the American Jewish community must respond with the same rigor and financial resources we would muster to help oppressed Jews anywhere else in the world. And we shouldn’t stop at helping Jews. Just as HIAS has for many years, we should extend our resources and expertise in resettlement beyond the oppressed of our own people. Did we ever imagine the refugees could be internally displaced Jewish families with transgender kids? I did not, but here we are.

One small way to start is to make sure that more Jewish summer camps can be temporary places of refuge. I’m deeply grateful that more camps are doing that this summer. But as trans and LGBTQ kids find freedom this summer, let’s work on ways to help them and their families protect their freedom throughout the year. Let’s work for the day when every state in the Union can be a safe haven for trans and nonbinary and all LGBTQ+ teens.

Jewish summer camps were created at a very different time in American Jewish history than the one we are living in now. They were an intervention often by Jews who had been in the United States longer and were more likely to have economic means — to give poorer, more recently immigrated Jews who lived in hot crowded city apartments an opportunity to send their kids to breathe fresh air, play on open fields and swim in lakes under the open sky. LGTBQ+ kids need not only fresh air to breathe, but the ability to be in communities where they can stop holding their breath, holding their fears quietly, where they can breathe easy knowing they belong and that they are recognized for who they are.


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Jon Stewart & Christiane Amanpour Use ‘Daily Show’ Interview to Muddle Image of Israel

Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” on April 8, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart hosted CNN personality Christiane Amanpour to discuss the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

While both veteran TV personalities had interesting takes on the ongoing conflict, including on the role of Arab states and on the political diversity of Israeli society, the remarks by both Stewart and Amanpour were marred by claims and comments that were either outright distortions of the truth, or lacking in proper nuance.

Put together, these problematic assertions could help create a fictitious narrative portraying Israel as the key aggressor in a war that is uniquely destructive, removing inherent responsibility from other regional actors.

The following are just some of the problematic claims and comments made by both Jon Stewart and Christiane Amanpour that help to create such a false image of the war:

In response to Jon Stewart’s quip that “There are journalists on the ground [in Gaza], they’re being killed,” Christiane Amanpour says that, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), almost 100 media workers and journalists “have been killed … in Gaza, West Bank, and Lebanon in six months.”

However, Amanpour omits the fact that this statistic includes Israeli journalists and that, even by the CPJ’s own records, a substantial number of journalists killed in Gaza were affiliated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terror organizations.

Amanpour mentions a “terrible law” that aims to “throw out any organization from Gaza, including Al Jazeera.”

This is a misrepresentation of a law recently approved by the Knesset, which allows the government to temporarily shut down the Israeli offices of foreign media outlets deemed to be a threat to Israeli national security during war. The law will not impact journalists in Gaza.

Amanpour credits Al Jazeera with “trying to tell the truth in this waging war.”

The CNN host ignores the fact that Al Jazeera is a news outlet run by the authoritarian regime in Qatar; that it has known ties to Hama;s and that it has been a purveyor of fake news about Israel’s conduct during the war.

Amanpour says the Oslo peace process “failed because the people responsible for enacting it didn’t do it and actually sabotaged it,” seemingly placing blame on both Israel and the Palestinians.

However, in reality, then-US President Bill Clinton said it was the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat that was the key factor in the “sabotaging” of the peace process by walking away from negotiations and initiating the violent Second Intifada.

With regards to Israel’s stated claim of continuing the war until Hamas is destroyed, Jon Stewart rhetorically asks “So, you’re just going to kill everyone?”

This implies that Israel is indiscriminately killing Palestinians and destroying Gaza in hopes of eliminating Hamas, rather than what it is actually doing: Going after Hamas targets that are deeply embedded among Gaza’s civilian population, in order to improve the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians that have suffered from the terrorist organization.

At one point in the interview, Amanpour draws a line between the American reaction to the war in Gaza and its reaction to the Rwandan genocide, implicitly comparing Israel’s defensive war against terrorism to the ethnic cleansing of a minority population.
Later, Amanpour claims that “At the moment, the Israeli government wants none of it. It doesn’t want the UN, it doesn’t want the Arab countries.”

Despite this image of Israeli recklessness and intransigence, Amanpour’s claim is belied by the fact that Israeli officials have expressed a degree of openness to certain Arab countries providing order and helping administer humanitarian aid and civil services in Gaza.

Near the end of the interview, Stewart questions why the war between Israel and Hamas is “not the top priority” and “not the only session that’s going on at the UN.”

In his formulation of the question, Stewart is exaggerating the import of the war in Gaza, making it out to be a unique conflict deserving of excess attention rather than one of many conflicts currently plaguing the world.

Soon after, Stewart claims that the figure of children killed in Gaza (“over 10,000”) is unprecedented and that he has never “heard of anything like that.”

Not only is Stewart ignoring the fact that Hamas’ listing of children casualties is highly contested, but he is once again making the war in Gaza into a unique phenomenon that deserves special attention and ignoring the high number of children killed in other conflicts, such as the Syrian civil war (30,000 children killed) and the Yemen civil war (at least 11,000 children killed or injured).

By peppering their conversation with baseless assertions and context-free claims about Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, both Jon Stewart and Christiane Amanpour are subtly creating a false image in the audience’s mind that portrays Israel as the aggressor and removes the bulk of responsibility from Hamas.

With the powerful influence that both Stewart and Amanpour have on American public opinion, this negative image of Israel’s conduct is not only poor journalism, but is also a powerful propaganda tool that can be used to weaken Israel’s fight against terrorism and strengthen the possibility of Hamas’ survival.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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Time Magazine Includes Mother of Hamas Hostage in 2024 List of ‘100 Most Influential People’

Rachel Goldberg at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, Dec. 27, 2023. Photo: Shanie Roth

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose 23-year-old Israeli-American son is still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists following the Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel, has been included in this year’s Time magazine annual list of the “100 most influential people” for her global campaigning efforts to secure the release of her son and all the hostages in Gaza.

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A Quiz About Israel and Hamas for Politicians, Protesters, and the Uninformed

An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The six-month anniversary of the savage Hamas terrorist attack of October 7 came and went, and after seeing their vast lack of knowledge on the subject, I was convinced that most American politicians, TV talking heads, protesters, and so-called journalists, should not be talking about Israel.

Far too many just don’t know the simple historical facts needed to intelligently speak about this war. They refer all the time to what they call “Palestine,” the Israeli “occupation,” “Israeli apartheid,” and “Israeli settlements,” which shows they lack a basic understanding of simple facts.

How many of these so-called arbiters of truth do you think would be able to pass a simple quiz? Could they even score a passing grade? And if they could not, what drives them to speak out so harshly against Israel?

How many pundits and protesters could score a 50% on the below short quiz?

1. What year was the First Zionist Congress held?

This founding Zionist meeting was held in Switzerland in 1897. The idea that Zionism originated as a response to German Nazism is false, as is the claim that the Zionists wanted a Jewish State outside of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The anthem selected at the 1897 Congress included the words “The land of Zion and Jerusalem.” The false claims about Zionism’s origins and goals were created to portray Zionism as having been created to further European colonialism and solve the European problem of antisemitism. Antisemitism was never only a European hatred, and was just as strong or stronger in Islamic majority countries.

2. What percentage of Israelis are not descended from European Jewish communities, but hail from the Middle East and North Africa?

According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Israeli Jews are Sephardim or Mizrahim (48%) compared to 45% Ashkenazim (European). The remaining 7% are mostly Ethiopian and Indian Jews. The idea that all Israelis are descended from European Jews who came to Israel to escape Nazism is false.

3. Does Israel practice apartheid, and do Palestinian Arabs serve in the Israeli Knesset (legislature)?

The Israeli government system is the antithesis of apartheid. Multiple parties led by Arab citizens participated in Israel’s first election in 1949, and Arab citizens have been candidates and have been elected throughout Israel’s history. Currently, 10 Knesset Members are Arab. The Likud Party, which is very often labeled as racist by those ignorant of Israeli politics, had an Israeli Arab Druze Knesset Member for over 22 years named Ayoob Kara.

4. Who occupied Gaza from 1948 to 1967?

Egypt occupied Gaza from 1948 until June 1967. No attempt was made by any Gazans to free the area from Egypt, nor was there any international pressure to create a Palestinian state there.

5. When was the first President or Prime Minister of Palestine elected?

There has never been a Prime Minister of Palestine. Yasser Arafat became President of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994. The idea of separate Palestinian nationhood did not exist prior to the creation of Israel.

6. What are Israeli settlements?

Settlements are Jewish communities where there are neighborhoods of families in areas that Israel did not control before 1967; put another way, these are cities and towns founded by Israelis in Judea and Samaria, not the so-called “territories.” No settlements were attacked on October 7. There are families with deep roots in the settlements with several generations of children born and raised in the settlements.

7. How long has Israel occupied Gaza?

On October 7, there were no Israeli troops or any Jews or Israelis, in Gaza at all. All Israelis were removed from Gaza in 2005 as part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. Gazans had complete control within their territory for 19 years before October 7. Israel has already relinquished control of over 23,000 square miles of territory it captured in 1967 (including Gaza). By contrast, Israel is only 8,000 square miles. Israel has already sacrificed tremendous amounts of territory in its efforts to try to achieve peace with the Arab nations that surround it.

8. When was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formed?

The PLO was founded in 1964 when the Old City of Jerusalem, Gaza, and Judea-Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) were all occupied by Jordan or Egypt. So, the PLO was created to end the existence of any Israeli control of any land it held after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

9. What did Hamas call its October 7 surprise terrorist attack and why?

Hamas and its terrorist allies named the attack Al-Aqsa Flood after a Jerusalem mosque built on the Temple Mount above the Western Wall. Hamas (like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood) is dedicated to a violent, expansive militant version of Islam that sees the murder of civilians as a legitimate part of the wars they launch. Moreover, the use of the name Al-Aqsa is their way of saying that the war doesn’t end until Jews are driven out of Jerusalem.

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press

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