By Rabbi Daniel Brenner
Many camp professionals I’ve spoken with have had the experience of engaging staff or campers in some type of ‘consent’ education at the beginning of a session only to witness, just a few days later, a series of campers or staff who break boundaries, harass others, and generally make their peers uncomfortable. So, they are left with the question – Is consent education effective?
If you’ve ever worked with younger children, then you know that even if you say “keep your hands to yourselves” a thousand times, there will still be many kids who touch, poke, push, and grab others. The best educators know that reducing the amount of non-consensual touch in an informal learning environment requires a lot more than talking about touch or repeating rules – It requires two conscious efforts – first, modelling safe, respectful, consensual touch and second, creating contexts of play (especially in games, dance, sports, and celebrations) where physical connection takes place and where people can learn to explore and navigate their personal boundaries. This is where embodied consent education comes in.
Embodied consent takes its name from somatic practice –emphasizing the idea that consent is part of a mind-body connection where our bodies send signals to our minds and our minds are directing our bodies, and our goal of attaining alignment between body and mind can be challenging. Instead of focusing on language alone – i.e. asking questions about consent, or saying “yes” or saying “no” – embodied consent education focuses on language, facial expression, body movement, and intuition. It focuses on games and creative learning that expand beyond typical consent education and help people to learn how to both set boundaries with others and establish consensual physical connection with others.
So why do we need more embodied consent education in Jewish camps?
In part we need it because many young people today, now almost three years into a pandemic, still need help developing their social skills and establishing healthy relationships. Games and play are effective ways to develop these social skills in a ‘low risk’ environment and to foster community-building.
It’s also core to Jewish life. Two thousand years ago, Rabbi Akiva taught that deep social empathy, “v’ahavta reyecha kamocha” (translated as “loving your fellow as you love yourself”) is the foundational principle of all of Torah. Some of the most amazing spiritual elements of camp happen through consensual physical connection – like dancing on Friday night, swaying arm and arm in a circle at a havdallah ceremony, or comforting someone who has experienced loss.
The best consent education starts early and is embedded in an ethics of care and empathy towards others.