Providing a Safe Space for Everyone

by Mark Kachuck

Machane Lev, or Camp Heart, was created out of a need for Jewish LGBTQ+ youth, to have a space to feel comfortable expressing themselves in a positive environment. Machane Lev is a place where campers can explore their Jewish Identity, connection to Israel, and be welcomed for who they are. I have the honour of being the camp’s first program director and continue to be amazed by the space we created this past summer and will create again this coming summer. As someone who identifies as gay, Machane Lev is personally important to me, and makes me proud to be Jewish. The intersection of my identities as both gay and Jewish posed challenges to me as both a camper and a staff at camp. However, Machane Lev has provided me with a space to create a marriage of these two worlds, and helps our campers do the same.

I am so proud to work full time for Canadian Young Judaea, Canada’s largest national Jewish and Zionist youth movement. Through this organization, which owns and operates Machane Lev, I was given the opportunity to explore my Jewish/Gay/Zionist identity. It was important to engage in discussions at camp about the climate surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in Israel and how this looks in 2018.

It was important to engage in this issue, as we had a safe environment to look at how Israel can improve, and what it is currently doing well. Our connection to Israel is important to me, because it gives me hope that we can change the political situation in Israel for generations to come. After my week at camp, I became more hopeful that we will be the generation that changes things for the better.

After the ShinShinim spent their first week in Canada at Camp Shalom with members of Machane Lev, Shira Biton, one of the ShinShinim, was inspired to create this drawing:

She writes:

A week before we arrived at our host families, before we even saw our Jewish institutions, we went straight from Israel to Camp Shalom. The first people who welcomed us were a group of adults, teenagers and kids that believe that their Jewish identity and their identification with the LGBT community can come together. A Jew is always a Jew.

They all had such positive attitudes, smiling faces, and behaved towards each other with respect and trust, which provided us with the opportunity to take part in their journey. They were happy to open their hearts to share their personal thoughts and life experiences with us. This experience has inspired me to draw this painting.