Machane Lev logo of two people rowing a boat in front of a rainbow.

Camp in Ontario runs from Aug.19-26.

Canadian Young Judaea is launching the first Jewish overnight camp program for LGTBQ and Jewish campers, called Machane Lev.

Machane Lev logo of two people rowing a boat in front of a rainbow.Machane Lev will be housed at Camp Shalom in Gravenhurst, Ont., and will run from Aug. 19-26, for kids 8-16 years old. Machane Lev is committed to being an inclusive Jewish summer camp that celebrates identity, encourages creativity, enhances leadership skills and evokes a love for Israel and the Jewish community. Machane Lev means “Camp Heart” in Hebrew.

“Machane Lev became particularly important to me when I was approached last fall about a young trans Jewish girl who was looking for a camp. I felt that it was time to create a safe option, where accommodations didn’t have to be made,” said Risa Epstein, national executive director of Canadian Young Judaea and director of Machane Lev.

“I think, as a community, we haven’t created enough safe spaces for the Jewish LGBTQ community. Over the years, we have been successful at times in including more people who have a range of sexual identities and sexual orientations, but I don’t think we have done as much for kids with gender identity and gender expression. This camp is really an opportunity to look at affirming identities of lots of different kids, and I think that’s really exciting,” said Gaela Mintz, director of camper care at Machane Lev.

Added Mintz: “I work a lot with little kids, as young as 3 and 4, who have a range of identities that are not necessarily cisgender [relating to people who identify with their birth gender]. There are some little kids who know very early on that they don’t fit in to the gender binary that our society sets up.

“We are appealing to those kids, as well as those who may not even have a label for their identity, but who recognize that our typical camps are very gender-segregated — boys’ cabins, girls’ cabins — and realize they can’t participate in the basic programming that is set up at those camps because of that barrier of gender.”

Machane Lev will have all the trappings of a regular camp, including drama, dance, arts and crafts, swimming and water skiing, but will also include experiential Jewish and Israel education. The staff will receive extensive training and will be chosen to represent a cross-section of the LGBTQ community, says Mark Kachuck, who will be program director of Machane Lev.

Machane Lev will also have a director of queer programming, who has done a lot of work both as a Jew and as a queer and trans person. The goal is to fuse together all the sexual and gender identities.

Machane Lev works within the Young Judaea philosophy and vision of being pluralistic and celebrating Jewish life. The goal is to make this a Jewish LGBTQ national camp, where kids from all backgrounds will be welcomed.

For more than 100 years, Canadian Young Judaea has been following its mission to provide high-level Jewish and Zionist experiences, while celebrating the diverse backgrounds and identities of all chanichim (campers).

“Our existing summer camp network will continue to open its doors to any and all Jewish campers. We know that the addition of Machane Lev will provide an open space for the affirmation and celebration of all sexual identities, gender identities and gender expressions in a Jewish setting,” Epstein said.

For more information about Machane Lev, contact Jen Levy at or call (416) 781-5156, ext. 221.


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