Parenting Podcast: Baruch Atah haBromance – Same Gendered Bonding at Summer Camp

Parenting Podcast by Miriam Chilton

In this week’s parenting podcast, Deborah Meyer and Daniel Brenner of Moving Traditions talk about what we can do for our teenage children. Deborah encourages us parents not to pull back too far, to let our kids know what we want for them and from them. As a parent of a seventeen year-old girl and a thirteen-year old boy, I often find myself negotiating with them about their “Jew time”–You can go out after services. Why not invite your friends to Shabbat dinner? You can go to the movies after you practice your Torah portion, and so on. But when we approach summer, the negotiating stops. Camp Harlam, Kutz and NFTY in Israel have changed the whole dynamic. They look forward to their summers because of fun and friends.

Deborah and Daniel also address the gender-specific needs of teens and how Judaism can address them. This caused me to reflect on my change in attitude towards the idea of “bromance,” a close relationship between two male best friends. I didn’t quite feel comfortable with the term or the idea of bromance. It was a little too intimate for my taste and quite frankly not macho enough. Then I started to witness intimate same-gendered moments at camp: packs of testosterone-driven young men embracing an ultimate Frisbee game as if it were their last, working together to cheer up a homesick camper, dancing wildly in a pack under a star-lit night, or warmly hugging one another after a Shabbat service. At first, I was intimidated and a little uncomfortable. Then I realized that safe, supportive opportunities that encourage honesty and acceptance for boys on boys’ terms are way too rare. One young man, a counselor in training, said he appreciated camp so much because it gave him relief from his full time job of being a teenage boy.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that these summer programs have the unique ability to create same gender groups that celebrate my children’s individuality while also teaching them that they are part of something so much bigger than themselves. Teaching them to balance concern for self and concern for others empowers them to try new things, connect with each other in special ways, and be thoughtful, caring and engaged youth.

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Miriam Chilton is the Director of Business Operations, URJ Camps and Israel Programs.

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6 Responses to “Parenting Podcast: Baruch Atah haBromance – Same Gendered Bonding at Summer Camp”

  1. avatar

    “too intimate”? “not macho enough”? This is Reform Judaism! Aren’t we supposed to defy traditional gender roles and be all touchy-feely and sensitive? I may be Classical Reform, but I detest the traditional, cold, curt masculine standard of behavior. Warmth, kindness, and gentleness are manly too!

  2. avatar
    Former Reform Jew Reply August 2, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Male bonding is very important, and camp provides a safe, supportive environment to own ones emotions and express them positively.
    Just don’t call it a bromance. The term is more bothersome than the interaction you are describing.
    By the way – have Reform camps ever come up with any rules, regulations, or guidelines about romantic relationship between campers?

  3. avatar

    @ Jordan Friedman
    You have been fortunate enough to grow up in a society that recognizes sexuality as coming in many varieties, all b’tzelem elohim, and therefore does not automatically feel threatened by displays of intra-gender affection and intimacy. But I assure you that homophobia, even shrouded in terms like not macho enough, was part of the DNA of our society until very recently, and you need to be understanding, if not forgiving, of its manifestation in those a generation or more older than you.
    @ Former Reform Jew
    I’m right with you on finding the word bromance not only bothersome, but disagreeable. Let’s expunge it from the language before it gets a foothold!

  4. avatar

    I’d want my children to become good spellers. The only way to teach that, as with so many other things, is by example.

  5. avatar

    @ Larry
    I suppose you’re right. I understand, and I can even forgive. However, I have always discerned in Jewish culture a distinct lack of the taboo that surrounds “gentle” and “sensitive” behavior by men in wider society. If anything, though it was liberal in spirit, I would think that Classical Reform would have assimilated the colder expectation for masculine behavior, because that was prevalent in the WASPy society that it at times tried to imitate. I would think that in time, the general spirit of liberalism would have self-limited that phenomenon. However, Mrs. Chilton seems to be pressing against both the liberal spirit of Reform and the warmth of traditional Jewish culture in her discomfort with the sort of behavior she terms a “bromance”. I actually don’t like that term very much, because a male-male platonic friendship which is close enough to include liberal, non-macho affection is still completely different from a romantic relationship. If anything, the mere prevalence of that misleading term is impeding the effort to curb societal suppression of healthy platonic affection.
    I’ll bet you’re surprised to hear this from a guy who likes the cool, distant CR ambiance! I do enjoy breaking the mold.

  6. avatar

    I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but what you called “bromance” here is what most people call friendship and or team spirit and or bonding. Sports teams not only hug and cheer with each other. They also shower with each other. Such is life.
    Bromance is a stupid term invented by hyper-sexualized cable sitcoms to describe what most people simple term as “friendship.” And, because everything in pop culture revolves around sex, male bonding and friendship couldn’t possibly be spared such a ridiculous term.
    If your son starts kissing his best friend, then I’d consider that bromance. Till then I’d just call it hanging out with his buddies.

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