This post is part of a series written in recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month by members of our community with a disability highlighting each of their visions for inclusion in our community.
When I was one of 58 amazing counselors-in-training at Camp JCA Shalom, we would do everything huddled in a circle. Our happiest moments we always spent in a circle, and we were always guaranteed to learn something new, either about each other or about ourselves.
“The reason we meet in circles is that there are no insiders and no outsiders,” my unit head said every time we circled up.
To me, that is inclusion. Standing in that circle, surrounded by my best friends in the world, experiencing camp and life as part of a tight-knit group that will be forever in my heart.
I learned everything about inclusion from summer camp, whether that be on a kickball team, a circle of strumming guitars, a tough team-building activity, color wars, or singing camp songs at the top of your lungs. But mostly, camp has taught me about friendship. It has taught me that there are people who are looking out for you and want to include you in everything.
The only thing that didn’t come up was my Asperger syndrome. It seemed to make no difference to anyone. If anything, they wanted to know more about it. There was no harassment, no strange looks, no problems at all. It wasn’t even treated as anything but a small quirk, which is how I’ve always felt about it. If anything, people wanted to know my unique perspective on things. That made me feel safe. It made me feel more connected to the group.
But camp has really been the ideal setting for meeting people who share my common interests and experiences. My love of music has flourished and blossomed thanks to my counselors and my friends. They have showed me new approaches to music, to other people, and to living life. Now, as a staff member, I want to do the same.
I find it interesting how these qualities of camp seep into your normal life, almost every day. Just yesterday, I was sitting on the city bus, and there was a small child, no older than eight, playing in the seat next to me. He then walked over and wanted to talk to me. If my counselor instincts hadn’t kicked in at that very moment, I would have simply sat there for the rest of my ride with my earbuds on listening to the new Bruce Springsteen album and ignored the kid. Instead, I talked to him until it was my stop. I know it brightened up my day, and I hope it brightened up his.
This is what camp does. It makes you a better version of yourself. It helps you make the closest friends you’ll ever make, and to form memories that will resonate for lifetimes to come. It brings you into a group of people who have the greatest love for you that you could ever wish for.
I know, I could sell summer camp like Don Draper could sell…anything, but it really is worth it. It’s the greatest experience. Much love to the CITs of 2013. I miss you all more than words can describe.
Zachary Adler is a senior at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, a staff writer for The Pearl Post, and a counselor at Camp JCA Shalom.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles believes that everyone in our community should have the opportunity to experience and celebrate our shared values, history and traditions. Making Jewish life more accessible for all is one of our top priorities, which is why we are part of a national effort to raise awareness about members of the Jewish community with disabilities. Go to www.jewishla.org/Inclusion for more information.