Camp Tawonga and the Truth

This piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.

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Camp Tawonga’s leadership faced a difficult decision last week when 21-year-old art counselor Annaïs Rittenberg, was killed by a falling tree. They needed to decide what to tell the campers.

The camp decided not to tell the children that Rittenberg had died — a decision that angers Rittenberg’s father.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mark Rittenberg wrote on Camp Tawonga’s Facebook page. “Everyone needs to know and everyone needs to embrace it.”

Upset at the praise shown for how the camp administration handled the situation, Rittenberg pointed out the anguish it caused her family.

“The love and prayers should go to Annaïs Maya Rittenberg. She is the one who died. Where are her pictures on your Facebook page?” he asked. “Where is the Shabbat service to honor her? This would mean that everyone at camp including the campers would know that their beloved art teacher was killed. “

Rittenberg died on July 3 when a 70-foot-tall black oak tree toppled on her outside the dining hall at the Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park in northern California.

Although it was widely reported within hours that Rittenberg had died, the campers at the sprawling camp did not know the extent of the tragedy. And officials decided to keep them in the dark, in part because the camp session ended at the end of the week.

On the evening of July 4, a day and a half after the tragic accident, executive director Ken Kramarz sent an email to parents explaining the decision to tell the campers only that a tree had fallen and that some staff members had been injured.

“We concluded that you, their parents, have the right to determine what to share about the incident based on your own assessment of how your child is doing and in accordance with your personal beliefs about death,” he wrote. “We feel strongly that you — the parents — should be able to decide when and in what way to discuss this with your children.”

The email also included some suggestions from the camp’s therapeutic team on how parents could speak with their children when they arrived home at the end of the session on July 5.

Some people, from within the Tawonga community and from outside it, agree that glossing over the truth was the correct way to handle the issue.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/179963/camp-tawonga-and-the-truth/#ixzz2YMyOhSJs

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