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Jewish kids of color attend inclusive summer camp

Judah, 10, of Vermont, center, and Kallie House, 12, of Sugar Land, Texas, right, react after the prayer over the challah bread is recited during Shabbat at Camp Be'chol Lasho   -  
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Jacquelyn Martin/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


In California, a summer sleepaway camp serves as a haven for Jewish children of color.

"Camp Be'chol Lashon is a camp for Jews of color. Be'chol Lashon actually stands for it in every tongue or in every language. And the mission of the camp is to provide a safe space for a diverse variety of Jews and to educate Jews on the multicultural experience." said Satya Sheftel-Gomes, who has been coming the camp since she was 11 and is now one of the camp counselors.

Its founders say it’s the only sleepaway summer camp specifically serving Jewish children of color, creating a safe space for candid conversations on race and identity.

For over the past 14 years it has functioned as an extended family for campers who are often the only Jewish child of color in their hometown or treated more as a curiosity than a full-fledged member of Jewish or Black communities.

"This place is very special for me because it has played a huge role in creating the foundations for my understanding of self. This place is one that focuses on providing kind of a literacy and identity in a really fun and innovative way," said Sheftel-Gomes.

At the camp, each morning begins with a lesson on global Jewry. For example, there’s Pirate Day, when campers learn about Jews who were expelled to the Caribbean during the Spanish inquisition and found livelihoods as pirates.

"We do our projects, our food projects related to the culture of that place. And this kind of helps to contextualize the experience of all the Jews of color that attend it." said Sheftel-Gomes.

The U.S. Jewish population remains overwhelmingly homogenous in its racial makeup, with 92% of adults identifying as white, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey. But there are signs the nation’s Jews are becoming more diverse, especially among younger generations.

"Often Jews of color in America are the minority in Jewish spaces and in wider spaces," said Sheftel-Gomes. "And so having a place that can attend to the intersection of being of color and being Jewish is really important."

The camp incorporates aspects of Jewish practice such as lighting candles for Shabbat and Havdalah, the ceremony to close out the Sabbath day. That ceremony also marked the end of the two-week camp session.

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