Association of Jewish Camp Owners and Parents File Suit to Open Sleepaway Camps

Campers at Camp Shalva of Bobov this past summer.

The Association of Jewish Camp Owners (AJOC) and a group of parents who plan to send their children to these camps filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York on Thursday afternoon to ask the court to grant permission for sleepaway camps to open this summer in New York State.

According to Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of New York Government Relations for Agudas Yisrael of America who has been working together with camp owners and parents on this issue, the suit argues that New York State’s decision to forbid camps this year constitutes a violation of the Orthodox community’s First Amendment right and that it inhibits the free exercise of religion.

In explaining the religious nature of Jewish overnight camps, the filing writes, “For more than one hundred years, Jewish overnight camps have provided an immersive, seamless Jewish experience to their campers whose parents choose Jewish camping for their children.”

This is accomplished through living their religion through on a daily basis through davening, learning, the Shabbos observance and countless other activities which “the 24/7 immersive camp experience” offers them.

“The need for Jewish overnight camps is particularly true this summer, after several months of shutdowns of the yeshiva schools, to provide for the structured Jewish learning and living offered by the Jewish overnight camps.”

The suit goes on the state that on June 12, 2020, the state announced that overnight camps would be closed for the summer of 2020 under his COVID-19 orders, without making any exceptions for Jewish overnight camps, notwithstanding that these overnight camps involve core religious exercise. This was done while allowing other exceptions for entities the state deemed important, like day camps, day care centers, and protests which took place the past few weeks.

A request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) will follow at the beginning of next week, which is customarily followed by a response from the other side of the case. A hearing will probably be scheduled a few days after that, with the hope that a TRO, which would restrain the state from implementing the ban on sleepaway camps, will be issued by the court.

Mr. Avi Schick, a lawyer who has represented the Jewish community on various government issues, will be the attorney for the plaintiffs.

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