The Four Children in Inclusive Camping | Camp Ramah Northern California

The Four Children in Inclusive Camping By Howard Blas, Tikvah Director

I was recently on the train from Baltimore to New York, processing all I learned and experienced in three days of large and small group sessions at the Foundation for Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly.  This biannual gathering is attended by nearly everybody in the Jewish camping world, including camp directors, board members, song leaders and inclusion specialists.  This illustrious list included Rabbi Sarah and Alana, our camp directors! What a treat to listen to speakers—and sing camp songs—with so many people who care about Jewish camping as much as your own Ramah Galim delegation.   To give a sense of the enormity of the gathering, I was assigned to Table 64 for dinner on Sunday evening!

It is a pleasure to see the FJC “table” has grown to include people from such places in the United States as Oregon, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Florida, and a cohort from such countries as England, Belarus, Poland, Russian and Ukraine.  They represent the various denominations and organizations in the Jewish World—from HaBonim Dror to URJ to Sephardic camping. The wide range of people and topics, including social inclusion, food service special diet solutions, beyond the (Cis) gender binary, and how to embrace interfaith families are a true indication of the diversity and range within our Jewish community.  

While our seders will likely not come close in size to the 800 plus in attendance in Baltimore, they have the potential to represent and include this beautiful diversity and range.  We need look no further than the Four Children, discussed in the magid (story telling) section of the seder for a model of how to embrace, celebrate and learn from differences.

While many haggadot describe the four children as wise, wicked, simple and not knowing how to ask, it is important to remember that each of us is more complex, interesting, and colorful than a one-word description.  

In the disabilities world, we prefer person-first language.  We might say that the person is a woman, mother, doctor, shul board member and a person with cerebral palsy.  The person is not cerebral palsy!  Similarly, a child who is “simple” or “doesn’t know how to ask” may only be that way in a certain context, and that is but one aspect of his or her personality.   In fact, each of us is, depending on the context and situation, a bit of each of these four children! The midrash brought at this point in the seder (“The torah alludes to four children…”) seems to suggest that different personality and character types require different approaches.

In the camping world, we know that some campers do best with a visual schedule of the day, while some can hear and remember what is expected.  Some athletes learn from observing the teacher modeling a skill while others can hear the explanation and immediately put it in to action.

The seder—and the four children—remind us that visual and experiential learners will learn best by seeing the items on the seder plate, and doing such actions as dipping twice, breaking matzah and (for those who follow the Afghani custom), “beating” others with scallions!  Some learn best by reading and discussing the text of the haggadah.

As parents and camp professionals, we need to remember a principle we so often use in the disabilities world—that of equity over equality—not necessarily giving everyone the same things, but giving everyone what he or she needs to be successful.   The haggadah and the four children are wonderful models of giving each of our children—at home and at camp—the support, accommodations, explanations and tools they as individuals need to succeed. Everyone has the potential to be successful. It is up to us to find the right way in for each child!