Four Jewish Summer Camps Sell “Fracking Rights”


Camps Endanger Drinking Water, Food, Health & Climate

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Forward reported that the following four Jewish summer camps in Pennsylvania have signed leases with gas exploration companies to allow “fracking” —  the hydro-fracturing method of pouring tons of highly chemicalized water to smash shale rocks into releasing natural gas.

  • Starlight’s Perlman Camp, which is owned and operated by B’nai B’rith;
  • Camps Nesher and Shoshanim, which share a property in Lakewood and are owned and operated by the New Jersey Federation of YMHA and YWHA; and
  • Camp Morasha, an independent camp in Lakewood.

The Forward reports that

Fracking of a single well creates more than one million gallons of wastewater awash in pollutants, including some radioactive materials.  According to a February report in The New York Times, state and federal documents show that the waste water is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.

The Shalom Center views it as a profound violation of Jewish wisdom and values for summer camps or other Jewish institutions to sell the rights to use their land in ways that will poison  God’s and humanity’s earth, air, food, and water.

More on actions you can take to halt this after the jump.
Normal Federal protections for drinking water and clean air have been thwarted by the Halliburton Loophole pushed through Congress by former Vice-President Dick Cheney. It prevents application of these protective rules to drilling by the gas and oil industries. As a result, no one knows what chemicals are causing the dangers to water, food, and health that are appearing in fracking areas.

Fracking has turned the drinking water of farmers near well-heads into “water” that turns to flame when a match is lit at the kitchen faucets.

Fracking threatens the drinking water supply of the Philadelphia and New York  City metropolitan areas, and has been charged with raising cancer rates in communities near fracking sites.

Fracking is also a planetary threat. Scientists at Cornell University have analyzed fracking and report that it leaks methane, a planet-heating gas much more  powerful than CO2, at such a rate that  “if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, [fracking] shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil.”

On September 7-8, the national commercial association of companies that are  fracking shale rock regions will gather for a national convention in Philadelphia.

So environmental organizations are planning to face the “Fracking Association” with major demonstrations on September 7-8. The goal is at least 2500 demonstrators, with a rally, a march, a counter-conference, and a “Blessing of the Waters.”

The Shalom Center has taken the lead in bringing together an interfaith planning committee to put together a “Blessing of the Waters” as part of the Sept 7-8 arrangements.

We invite religious folk, clergy and lay, who want to take part in these events to get in touch with us by writing Rabbi Arthur Waskow with “Interfaith Blessing Waters” in the subject line.

The two-day anti-fracking event will include: a large rally near the Philadelphia Convention Center from  noon to 2 pm, Wednesday September 7; a march through Philadelphia to Gov Corbett’s office that day; an interfaith “Blessing of the Waters” at Penn’s Treaty Park on the Delaware River at 5:30 pm;  and on Thursday, an all-day conference to plan strategy to stop fracking, to be held at Rodeph Shalom Congregation in down-town Philadelphia.

Fracking is currently under a moratorium in parts of New York State. New Jersey has just outlawed it. Wells have been drilled in parts of Pennsylvania. The Delaware River Port Authority has imposed a moratorium that may expire in September.

What you can do to stop fracking:

  • Call your child’s summer camp to urge they reject any leases or plans that might allow fracking.
  • Call  Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith International, at (888) 388-4224 (toll-free) or 202-857-6600, about Camp Perlman, and Leonard Robinson, exec of the New Jersey Y Camps, who has decision-making power over those camps,  at (570) 296-8596..
  • Sign the petition for a national ban on fracking.
  • If you live in New York State, call Governor Cuomo at 518/474-8390 and urge him to ban fracking throughout New York State. In Pennsylvania, call Governor Corbett at 717/787-2500 with the same demand.
  • Call your members of Congress and tell them to pass the FRAC Act to repeal the “Cheney-Halliburton” exemption for hydrofracking from environmental laws.
  • Show the documentary film Gasland in your community. It documents the dangers of fracking. DVD’s are available on the Gasland website.
  • Save the dates of September 7-8 to attend the interfaith events on fracking in Philadelphia.  Click here for more information.
  • See our article for background.
  • Prepare to use Shabbat Noach, October 28-29, when Jews read the biblical story of the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow, as a time to address fracking and other threats to our planet, and act to heal our Earth in the spirit of the Rainbow.

I talked with Leonard Robinson, director of the New Jersey YH-YWHA summer camps (which are located in Pennsylvania). He gave four arguments for the leases:

  1. The issue is “bigger than we are,” he said. This meant that whether the Delaware Bay and River authorities clamp down on fracking will make a difference, and the camp is essentially helpless.
  2. Moreover, the camp’s neighbors were leasing their land and since the gas drilling/fracking may do damage beneath the earth’s surface horizontally across ownership lines, better they should make their own deal that might protect the camp’s land better than not leasing.
  3. The camp made a lot of money from the lease.
  4. The lease was agreed to two years ago, when the camp had much less information than it does now about the dangers of fracking. “Now, we can’t just cancel the lease.”

I responded thus:

Of course the issue is bigger than the camp. When big institutions are attacking Jewish values, the question is whether to surrender because they are more powerful or organize to stop them —  including, in this case, to reach out to the neighbors and work with them against the fracking companies.

I mentioned the San Francisco case where some people are organizing a referendum to outlaw circumcision of children. The official Jewish community could have decided the issue was “bigger” than they were – too big to fight – and surrender (even maybe having mohelim make a deal for a buy-off to replace their lost income) or instead, choose to fight. They chose to fight, because circumcision was seen as a core Jewish value. Are clean water, air, and food, and the healing of our climate crisis, the protection of God’s Creation, a core Jewish value or not? In “Jewish identity-building” of campers, what are they taught about Jewish values and the Earth?

As for the inviolability of leases agreed to two years ago, I pointed out to Mr. Robinson that it MIGHT be argued that if the fracking companies withheld information they had two years ago about the poisonous chemicals they are adding to the fracking water, and in other ways misled the camps and other lessees, that the leases might be voidable.

So I encourage you to call Mr. Robinson at (570) 296-8596, and urge him to take all necessary steps to void the existing leases, to make no new ones, to make protection of the Earth and of human health a clear Jewish value taught in his camps, and to join with The Shalom Center and others in the Jewish and  broader American communities to convince state governments to outlaw fracking, as the State of New Jersey has just done.

My conversation with Mr.Robinson makes clear that this issue goes beyond the four camps that have already leased land for fracking. It raises the basic question whether Jewish camping, which is widely  said to be intended to strengthen Jewish knowledge, practice, and values among young people, can actually enhance – instead of betraying –   its unusual opportunity of making connections between Jewish values and the healing of relationships between adam and adamah, the earthy human race and the Earth itself.

There are hundreds of such camps, sponsored by the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and various Orthodox denominations, by Habonim Labor Zionists and by Young Judea, by many Federations and other Jewish organizations.   There is even a Foundation for Jewish Camp, 15 West 36th Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10018 ; Phone: 646-278-4500, whose CEO is  Jeremy J. Fingerman, 646-278-4505.

Among these many camps, there is at least one,  Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, NY (877) 397-EDEN (3336);  which was founded explicitly to renew the Jewish connection with the Earth. Its program to do this is both extraordinary and exemplary.

The Shalom Center intends to pursue both our efforts to end any practices that subvert the Jewish value of healing God’s creation, and our efforts to strengthen those program that support that value as a core commitment of Judaism and the Jewish people.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center; newest book, co-authored with R. Phyllis Berman, is Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness across Millennia.