Summer Camp Cliffhanger, Pt. 2: Anxieties About Inclusion
03/14/2013 - 13:14
Rabbi Rebecca Schorr
Rabbi Rebecca Schorr
Rabbi Rebecca Schorr

Editor's Note: This post is the second of two. In the first part, Rabbi Rebecca Schorr wrote about the long and sometimes painful process of trying to find a summer camp for her son, who has Asperger's. Finally, she and her husband found Round Lake, a Jewish camp that was “self-contained,” meaning it was designed specifically for children with disabilities. But then they found out that Round Lake was moving to another campus. Ben and his buddies will still have their own bunks, but they will spend much of the day in mainstream activities and social settings. Below, in part two of Rabbi Schorr's post, she gathers her thoughts about what is often called the “inclusion debate,” and concludes that it is a false dichotomy.

In a carefully-crafted letter, Round Lake billed the move as a positive change that will allow our kids access the more modern facilities at the Milford location as well as more elective opportunities with assurances that the camp will maintain its identity: “Think of it as everything RLC has always been, plus.” 

I want so much to share the administration’s excitement about the move and the opportunities for inclusion. But Round Lake attracted us in the first place because it wasn’t an inclusion program. Ben functions in an inclusive world year-round. But functioning is not the same as thriving.

And Ben thrived at Round Lake because, rather than in spite of, its self-contained program. This is not a plug for Round Lake Camp, or even self-contained programs, as such. It is, however, the beginning of a conversation about the types of Jewish camp experiences that ought to be available for our kids.

There are those who benefit greatly from being in a full-inclusion program that offers a special track for kids whose needs require certain modifications. Others, like Ben, flourish in a more specialized setting. Jewish camp is expensive; special needs camps, because of the services that they provide and the smaller staff-to-camper ratio, are even more so.

I have to wonder if Round Lake decided to transition from a specialized setting to a more inclusive one because some major funders in the Jewish community have made it clear that they will only support inclusive programs. They made this clear in a Jewish Week newspaper article last summer, after they, along with a group of parents and communal service professionals concluded a three-day bus tour of Jewish special-needs camp programs sponsored jointly by the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jewish Funders Network.

It is unfortunate that the so many current funders are limiting their financial resources to some and not all of these wonderful programs and, in doing so, denying access to the Jewish camping experience for our kiddos who simply cannot benefit from a full-inclusion program. Rather than view this either/or when it comes to funding Jewish camping programs for kids with special needs, perhaps it should be seen as yes/and.

Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and as well as a variety of other online sites. Writing at This Messy Life (, Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr.

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I am 29 years old and am the founder of the Round Lake Campers alumni group on Facebook. Ever since this was brought to our attention, it has been a huge topic of discussion in the threads. One of our biggest concerns is how will the neurotypical children receive the RLC children once they arrive? From our experience, kids can be cruel. We do hope, however, that this new experience will prove to be a positive one for the current campers.

It is too bad (though understandable) that funders are jumping on this background. The way it is presented to them probably makes it sound like a great idea.

This leaves me wondering if the camp lowered its prices, since kids aren't getting the same service. Here's to thriving and not just surviving.

There really are two schools of thought in this debate. Inclusion is great for so many kids and those programs ought to be encouraged and supported. So too are the specialized programs. They deserved to funded as well. Because otherwise we are sending the message that we only value those who are able to thrive in the inclusion programs and I don't believe that is the intention of the funders.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.