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.

15th Annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia

The Matchmaker, directed by Avi Nesher
Saturday, February 26 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, February 27 at 3:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 112 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

Eight Prize Winning Films Over Six Weeks

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia celebrates its 15th Anniversary Season with eight prize-winning films by Israeli filmmakers over a six-week period beginning February 26th with screenings in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.  The Festival celebrates Israeli cinema with the aim of enriching the American vision of Israeli culture and society through film.  (See our coverage of the Israeli Film Festival in 2006 and 2009.)

Advanced ticket sales are available online.  There are a limited number of free tickets for high school and college students at each screening. Reservations for student tickets can be made online and must picked up one hour prior to each screening.

According to Nurit Yaron, the Film Festival’s chair,

Each season the Israeli Film Festival presents a slate of feature films and documentaries that are carefully selected to represent a diverse reflection of Israel.  It is our goal to celebrate the creativity of Israeli filmmaking and vibrancy of Israeli culture. Our program includes award-winning feature films and documentaries that have received wide recognition both in Israel and abroad.

The Matchmaker

The Festival opens on Saturday, February 26th with The Matchmaker directed by Avi Nesher.  Winner of the 2010 Israeli Film Academy for Best Actor and Best Actress Awards, The Matchmaker is an enchanting coming-of-age tale about the redemptive power of love and the manifold incarnations of friendship.  Yankele Bride, a Holocaust survivor who makes his living as a matchmaker, hires 16-year old Arik to scout potential clients throughout the bustling port city of Haifa.  The quirky characters Arik meets on the job – Clara, a beautiful, fragile woman whom Bride loves from afar; Sylvia, a survivor of Josef  Mengele’s Nazi experiments who yearns for a husband; and Meir, a librarian – open his eyes to a world of wonder, pain and longing.  Avi Nesher made his feature film debut with The Troup and has since made Turn Left at the End of the World (the biggest grossing movie in Israeli history) followed by The Secrets.  The Matchmaker will have two screenings, both at the Philadelphia International House, on Saturday, February 26th at 8:00 PM and again on Sunday, February 27th at 3:00 PM.

Information and trailers about the other seven film after the jump.

Precious Life, directed by Shlomi Eldar
Sunday, February 27 at 7:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 82 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)

Precious Life

Precious Life, a searing documentary about Israeli/Palestinian relations by Shlomi Eldar, will screen at the Philadelphia International House on Sunday, February 27th at 7:00 PM.  The movie brings to light the plight of a Palestinian baby who was born without an immune system, a genetic disease that had killed his two sisters.  Eldar helps facilitate funds for a bone marrow transplant through an anonymous Israeli donor whose own son had been killed in the Army.  He also documents the drama of the Palestinian doctor taking the matching blood samples across the border checkpoint.  The winner of the Best Documentary from the 2010 Israeli Film Academy, Precious Life highlights the complex dynamics reflecting the personal and political ambiguities in the region.  

Gei Oni, directed by Dan Wolman
Saturday, March 5 at 8:00 PM, Drexel University, Edmond D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Mitchell Auditorium, 3128 Market Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 105 minutes, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic with English subtitles)

Gei Oni – Valley of Fortitude

The Festival continues on March 5th at Drexel University’s Mitchell Auditorium with Gei Oni, directed by Dan Wolman and based on the classic novel by Israeli author Shulamit Lapid.  A historical epic, Gei Oni interweaves the story of the first wave of Jewish European migration to Palestine at the end of the 19th century with an unusual love story.  Fania, having escaped the pogroms of Russia, seeks a new life in late 19th century Palestine.  She meets Yechiel, a widower with two young children.  Agreeing to marriage as a means of survival, Fania follows the farmer to a hard pioneer life in his tiny village near the city of Safed.  Gei Oni is a dramatic narrative of the Jewish dream of returning and rebuilding the land of Zion.  Director Dan Wolman will be the guest speaker following the screening.

Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz
Sunday, March 13 at 7:00 PM, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, 824 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr
(2009, 94 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)


The Festival moves to the Main Line’s Bryn Mawr Film Institute on March 13th with Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz.  Taking place during the first Lebanon War in 1982, a novice crew of Israeli soldiers enters the ruins of a Lebanese town previously bombed by the Air Force.  Young men who have never fought before find themselves trapped within a tank as they are thrown into a situation that quickly spins out of control.  Winner of the Golden Lion Award from the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Lebanon was also the winner of the European Discovery Award and the Carlo di Palma Cinematographer Award, both from the 2010 European Film Festival, and Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor, all from the 2009 Israeli Film Academy.  Dr. Elna Yadin, a psychotherapist from Byrn Mawr College, will be the guest speaker after the film.

This is Sodom, directed by Adam Sanderson & Muli Segev
Saturday, March 26 at 8:30PM and Sunday, March 27 at 3:00PM
International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 88 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

This is Sodom

The Festival returns to the Philadelphia International House with two screenings of the comedy This is Sodom, directed by Adam Sanderson and Muli Segev, on Saturday, March 26th at 8:30 PM and again on Sunday, March 27th at 3:00 PM.  A delightfully raucous, slapstick comedy, This is Sodom reenacts the moment of the birth of the Jewish people, as the patriarch Abraham bargains with God for the life of his nephew, Lot, supposedly the only righteous person in the infamous city of Sodom, the biblical capital of gambling, sex and corruption.  This is Sodom set the record for the most tickets sold for an Israeli movie in its first weekend.

The Human Resources Manager, directed by Eran Riklis
Sunday, March 27 at 7:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 103 minutes, Hebrew and Romanian with English subtitles)

The Human Resources Manager

Israel’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, The Human Resources Manager, will be shown on Sunday, March 27th at 7:00 PM at the Philadelphia International House.  Based on the novel by A.B. Yehoshua and directed by Eran Riklis, The Human Resources Manager won Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Soundtrack and Best Supporting Actress, all from the 2010 Israeli Film Academy.  In this touching tragic-comedy, a Human Resource manager at Israel’s largest bakery is blamed for not noticing that one of his employees is missing.  After discovering that the employee is a victim of a suicide bombing, the manager finds himself the unlikely escort of the young woman’s coffin back to her hometown in Romania.  Eran Riklis is the acclaimed director of The Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride which was screened in Philadelphia at the 2006 Israeli Film Festival.

Missing Father, directed by Yair Elazar
Saturday, April 2 at 8:45 PM, Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park
(2009, 86 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

Missing Father

Missing Father, a documentary by Yair Elazar, will be screened on Saturday, April 2nd at 8:45 PM at Gratz College.  Decades after the death of Israel’s legendary but discredited Chief of Staff David Elazar (Dado), his youngest son launches a personal investigation into the life of the national celebrity and military genius.  Now a father himself, Yair Elazar feels compelled to understand the father whose many absences from home made him an enigma to his children.  Through a sincere and lucid requiem, the director takes a journey in his father’s footsteps, aiming to penetrate the web of myths shrouding his father’s memory, and to overcome his anger at him for sacrificing family life for a military career.  Yair Elazar will be the guest speaker following the film.

Voices from El-Sayed, directed by Oded Adomi Leshem
Saturday, April 9 at 8:45 PM, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Jewish Federation Campus, 272 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr
(2009, 75 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)

Voices from El-Sayed

The Festival concludes on Saturday, April 9th at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy with Voices from El-Sayed directed by Oded Adomi Leshem, winner of the 2009 Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award.   The Bedouin village of El-Sayed in the picturesque Israeli Negev desert is home to the largest percentage of deaf people in the world.  Hearing and non-hearing residents alike live in silence, and all use a variant of sign language adapted over several generations to local needs and habits.  One member’s decision to get a cochlear implant for his son brings into sharp focus how the gift of hearing may feel like the loss of community and identity.  Director of the film, Oded Adomi Leshem, will be the guest speaker following the film.


For further information about the festival or any of the screenings, please call 484-904-5421 or visit the festival’s website.