Editorial: Visa restrictions would harm Jewish day camps

Even though Jewish summer camps are already preparing for next year, their plans could be seriously upended by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, which might lead to new visa restrictions for foreign counselors.
In April, Trump signed the Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American.
The order calls upon federal departments and agencies to review immigration rules – ostensibly to protect domestic workers – including those rules affecting the State Department’s cultural exchange programs.
Threatened by the review is the J-1 visa program, specifically the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program. The order signed by the president could ultimately keep Israeli shlichim (counselors)from receiving J-1 visas.
This is bad news for Jewish day and overnight camps. Indeed, all camps.
Staff and counselors should not be taken for granted. They are role models for kids, the fun young surrogate parents, mentors and informal teachers that complement the parents.
Israelis are particularly important to The J camping experience. Shlichim build lasting relationships with the families they stay with and the kids they counsel. They are living, breathing connections to Israel, generators of enthusiasm for the Jewish state that Diaspora counselors simply cannot replace.
“Role models shape our campers’ ability to grow and learn,” said Teen Director, Kari Semel, who worked closely with The J’s shlichim this past summer. “The role models that come to work at our camps, from all over the world, are vital to our communities.
“Losing the chance to have an international staff presence at camp greatly reduces the opportunity for our campers to appreciate and learn from other cultures,” she continued. “It shows the international staff that we do not place intercultural relations and tolerance at the forefront of our camp curriculum.”
She added, “Bringing in international staff members to work and teach at our camps demonstrates the importance of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests).
JCL President and CEO Sara Klein Wagner recalled how, 15 years ago, her family hosted Johana Wainberg for several weeks while her husband chaired the camp committee. She said they stayed in touch with Wainberg, who even hosted their daughter on her first trip to Israel.
Camping should not be a political issue. It should be about growth and development for kids. Without the shlichim, and all international camping staff, that growth will be stifled, and we’ll all be poorer for it.

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