Friday, August 12, 2011

Prayer, & Bug Juice, at a Summer Camp for Jews of Color

  Be’chol Lashon's Goals

Vision: A Global Jewish People

Imagine a new global Judaism that transcends differences in geography, ethnicity, class, race, ritual practice, and beliefs. Discussions about “who-is-a-real-Jew” will be replaced with celebration of the rich, multi-dimensional character of the Jewish people.

Jews around the world face serious demographic challenges. Worldwide, the number of Jews is stagnant. Decimated by the Holocaust, Jews now comprise only 0.2% of the world's people. We believe the Jewish population, through pro-active efforts, could grow to 20 million by 2020, and 40 million by 2060.

We seek to overcome the significant organizational, cultural and ideological barriers to growth in the Jewish community. A more expansive Judaism is particularly engaging for younger and unaffiliated Jews who want Judaism to reflect the global community in which they live.

Be'chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) grows and strengthens the Jewish people through ethnic, cultural, and racial inclusiveness. We advocate for the diversity that has characterized the Jewish people throughout history, and through contemporary forces including intermarriage, conversion and adoption. We foster an expanding Jewish community that embraces its differences.


 Such is the mission of Camp Be’chol Lashon (“In Every Tongue”) here in the hills of Marin County about 35 miles north of San Francisco. For the past two years, it has provided the commonplaces of Jewish summer camp, right down to poison oak and bug juice, to an emerging population of Jews of color.

“If there’s Christians of all colors and all kinds, and Muslims of all colors and all kinds,” Amalia, 11, said over Shabbat lunch, “then why would Jewishness be any different?”

One of her fellow campers, Josh Rowen-Keran, 14, who was born to black and Korean parents and then adopted by an interracial couple in the Bay Area, sounded similarly nonchalant. “Being Jewish isn’t looking a certain way,” he said. “I could look at anyone and not know if they are or aren’t Jewish. You can’t know till you know the person.”

Yet what strikes these children as the same old same old, an American-Jewish community of multiple hues and heritages, has arrived as a seismic change. Religiously and historically, Judaism has generally placed little emphasis on evangelism and conversion.[...]        


  1. Although there's a part of me that finds this story heart-warming, I think that this article is ultimately quite dangerous and misleading. Take a look at its comment thread. Here's an example of the negative message about Jews and Judaism that a reader can walk away with from this article:

    "What a heavenly story! it's too bad that Jews don't have a place for converts of any color."

  2. the story actually is more dangerous than that. The organization has an agenda of encouraging converts - especially of diverse racial types. This desire of increasing the Jewish population comes with a strong disregard of halacha. The organization in fact takes it as a given that Judaism is racist and that they are dealing with the problem by increasing the number of people of color.

  3. It's non-Orthodox, so their so-called "conversions" are as good as Bugs Bunny becoming Jewish. They're no more valid then the Reform and Conservative.

  4. While I understand that frum Jews would view non-Orthodox groups with suspicion, the fact is that any organization that makes Jews of color (including those not recognized as Jewish per Orthodox halacha) feel more comfortable in their own skin and feel that they belong to the Jewish people is a net plus. At worst, you have a group of non-halachic Jews who identify as Jewish, support Jews and Jewish causes, and perform good deeds that make the world a better place. At best, you may actually wind up getting some people who wind up pursuing Orthodox conversions, living a frum lifestyle, and becoming valued members of frum communities.

    By contrast, if Jews of color (with the exception of some who are born into Orthodox communities) are not made to feel welcome, the chances of them becoming Orthodox are pretty much nil.

  5. At best, you may actually wind up getting some people who wind up pursuing Orthodox conversions, living a frum lifestyle, and becoming valued members of frum communities.

    That isn't "best". Judaism doesn't benefit from conversions (as the seforim mention) and attempts to turn away prospective converts.

  6. Dovid- Judaism doesn't benefit from conversions? News to me. Wasn't King David descended from a convert? No Ruth, no David.

    Same principle here. How many potential rabbis, teachers, role models, etc, might there be in the ranks of these children? You don't think any of them have anything to offer?

    How sad.

    There's a difference between following the principle of discouraging conversions and not recognizing the benefit to having sincere converts join the Jewish people.

  7. Friar Yid: You beat me to the punch. Not only would we not have David HaMelech without Rus, we also would not have had Megillas Rus!

    Onkelos would be another good example of a ger from whom Klal Yisrael has benefited.

    Shmaya and Avtalyon were, at the very least, decendants of gerim, and some rishonim (the Rambam for one, I believe) hold that they themselves were gerim.

    Dovid: One can have a legitimate argument based on ma'marei chazal whether the practice of accepting converts yields a net positive or net negative for Jews and Judaism. But the sources are not at all monochromatic on this issue as you seem to believe (here's just one example: HaShem exiled the Jews only so that converts would join them, Pesachim 87b). And it's certainly irresponsible to state that Judaism doesn't benefit from converts as a *categorical* statement (which is what you appear to do), because it's demonstrably not true (see above).

  8. I did want to note; not all jews of color are converts! Sure, some are, sure some are the children of converts, but there are many of us who are Jewish by birth and by halacha. I find it interesting that every single time jocs are brought up on of the first assumptions is 'ger'!

    I am thrilled this camp exists, and am now planning to send my own children when they are old enough.


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