My Hero, Judy Heumann Part I: Thoughts on Summer Camps

The book finally arrive—just in time to begin reading it over Shabbat.  We gave a plug for Judith Heumann’s new book  Being Heumann:  An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist at our recent National Ramah Tikvah Network discussion of Crip Camp—with Judy and Isaac Zablocki, Director of Film Programs at JCC Manhattan and the Director and co-founder of ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival.  Check out the video of our discussion here:

I just started the book and, in a week when so many in the camping world are feeling sad about camps being cancelled this summer due to Covid-19, I wanted to share a few quotes from Judy which remind us just how important camp is for campers with and without disabilities.  Judy first attended Camp Oakhurst, then Camp Jened.  She writes:

Page 24: “At camp we tasted freedom for the first time in our lives.  Camp is where we had freedom from our parents dressing us, choosing our clothes for us, choosing our food for us, driving us to our friends’ houses.  This is something we would have naturally grown out of, like our nondisabled, friends, but we live in an inaccessible world, so we have not.  We loved our parents but we relished our freedom from them.  I met my first boyfriend at camp…”

 Page 25:  “The freedom we felt at camp was not just from our parents and our need for their daily assistance in order to live our lives. We were drunk on the freedom of not feeling like a burden, a feeling that was a constant companion to our lives outside of camp.”

Page 27:  “But camp was completely different.  Camp was for us.  It was designed specifically for our neeDs in mind and our parents paid for us to be part of it.  Our participation wasn’t contingent on someone else’s generosity; it was a given.  I didn’t have to worry that if I wanted to do something or go someplace, I’d have to ask somebody for a favor.  I didn’t have to feel guilty about how much work it took to get me dressed and take me to the bathroom.  The counselors were paid to do these things for us, which made all the difference in the world….At camp, I didn’t have to worry about what I needed, or how much help I could ask for at one time…CAMP, I THOUGHT, WAS WHAT IT WOULD FEEL LIKE IF SOCIETY INCLUDED US.”

I am honored that Camp Ramah has been including campers with disabilities for the past 50 years.  We celebrated 50 years of Tikvah in Israel last April as part of our Tikvah Israel Bike Ride and Hike. We were delighted to honor Tikvah’s founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg. Camp Ramah in New England was scheduled to celebrate “Tikvah at 50” this summer, but it will be rescheduled.  May we continue to include, support and embrace all campers!

I look forward to sharing more of Judy’s wisdom in future posts.

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