Bill Lueders, Isthmus, September 1, 2005
Camp Shalom had children pretend to be Israeli soldiers
It was the face paint that tipped Tsele Barr off. Early this summer, she was picking up her two sons from Camp Shalom, a day camp run by the Madison Jewish Community Council, and noticed that some of the children had paint on their faces. She asked her youngest son, Izak, what this was about and he explained, “We were playing Israeli army.”
This, Barr learned from Izak, involved “doing drills and such.” Then her older son, Jasper, told her that similar training was part of his camp experience the summer before, and had included shooting make-believe guns.
Barr, a freelance graphic designer, was deeply troubled by this news and placed some calls to other parents. She also spoke to the camp director, Lynn Kaplan, and to Shirin Ezekial, a cultural ambassador from Israel who led the children in this activity.
“Although they listened to my concerns, I got the impression that they didn’t see what the big deal was,” relates Barr. “I really think it’s appalling that a camp that calls itself Camp Shalom [the word means peace] would glorify the Israeli army” — which, she says, “repeatedly commits human-rights abuses.”
Other parents also contacted Kaplan. Susan Cook, a professor at the UW-Madison School of Music, says her son reported that, during this year’s simulation, he raised his hand to ask a question, only to be told: “Soldiers don’t ask questions, they follow orders.”
“That is something I do not teach my children — to blindly follow orders,” says Cook. She thought Kaplan was initially defensive but ultimately seemed to grasp the reasons for her discomfit: “I came away feeling very good about her response.”
Both parents stress that Camp Shalom is an excellent camp and that they have no problem with a component that teaches children about life in Israel. But they object to what Cook calls “inculcating militaristic beliefs.”
So do others in the community. “I just feel really outraged that at Camp Peace, the kids were playing Israeli army,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister-City Project. “When I heard about it, I was just livid.”
George Arida, an Arab American member of Loewenstein’s group (whose efforts to establish a formal sister-city link were voraciously opposed by the Madison Jewish Community Council), has this to say: “If there was an Islamic kids’ camp and it had even a hint of playing Islamic war games, there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so.”
Kaplan, in a brief phone interview, disputed an overview of the parents’ accounts (without giving any specifics) but admitted they “did raise a concern and it was a very valid concern” about a camp “activity.” Kaplan, saying she was too busy to talk, promised to call back later but never did, ignoring a follow-up message.
Marc Rosenthal, whose son attended a subsequent session of Camp Shalom, says the Israel soldier role-playing was apparently not repeated. Which is fine by him. “This is not what we want our kids doing. This is not what Camp Shalom is all about.”
Barr, for her part, vows to remain vigilant: “We’ll see what happens next year.”