Moderated by Rachel Stein | rachels83@gmail.com

Dilemma: A camp staff member took a group, including my daughter, on a golf cart ride, contrary to camp regulations. When rounding a corner, my daughter fell, along with the other girls, who landed on her.

She wasn’t badly hurt other than some minor scrapes, but her glasses were broken. The staff member initially asked my daughter to cover up for her negligence but wound up apologizing profusely and offering to pay for the glasses.

Should I forgive and forget or report her to the camp administration?

Good Yiddishe Kup

When I was growing up in a small West Tennessee town, my parents and I constituted the entire Jewish population. When I was 12, I learned a lesson that may shine light on your dilemma.

Walking home from school, I was using a shortcut through a cotton field when I saw several cars, one of which was a sparkling new Cadillac, and a cluster of men and women dressed as Orthodox Jews waiting near my house. They introduced themselves and asked to speak to my mother.

Rachel Stein

Rachel Stein

The Cadillac belonged to a man in a three-piece suit, a Jewish lawyer employed in the Memphis political group. The Orthodox group was related to an individual who had been convicted of capital murder, thought by many to be an incorrect verdict, and awaited a Supreme Court decision regarding a retrial.

So why was this group coming to see my mother? She was the bridge partner of the chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Could my mother say something across a bridge table that would help produce a favorable court decision? The group’s eyes were hopeful, entreating.

My mother agreed to consider the situation, and the meeting ended. Friends, neighbors, doctors, the druggist and even our housekeeper concurred against making any comments to the judge.

My mother, however, was independent-minded and always felt that a good Yiddishe kup alongside a forgiving spirit could trump a court decision. During the next bridge game she mentioned the case. The judge replied, “Juliet, honey, you know I can’t discuss cases.”

“I’m not discussing this with you, Judge. I am discussing it with someone else,” Mother said, and the conversation continued around the table. My mother wound up apologizing, as did the judge.

At the retrial, the verdict was — hold on to your seats — an acquittal. For the next dozen or so years, Mother received a dozen roses on her birthday with no card or source.

Marvin H. Cohn

Safety Trumps All

There is no dilemma here. The mother is obligated to:

  • Call the camp director with the counselor’s name. It’s her responsibility as a mother and parent of a camper. She paid money to an institution with the understanding that her child would be kept in a safe environment. Her daughter’s safety trumps the counselor’s employment.
  • Recount the incident, including that the staff member asked the daughter to lie. Let the director know that she called the staff member directly and share her response. (The mother should have called the camp director; that’s the proper chain of command.)
  • Express her extreme displeasure at the staff member’s lack of judgment in taking the girls on the golf cart and asking her daughter to lie for her.
  • Let the camp director know that the camp will be reimbursing you for the replacement cost of the glasses. How that money is returned is the camp’s decision.
  • Discuss with the director how the camp will address this issue with staff and campers for the future.

Whether the camp chooses to fire the staff member is not the mother’s responsibility. The staff member is an employee who is responsible to superiors. The mother’s primary concern must be her daughter’s safety.

In addition, the mother needs to figure out how to talk to her daughter about all of the issues involved in this incident. If she can’t do it herself, she should seek the help of a rabbi or counselortherapist. The discussion should include the daughter’s safety; the safety of the other campers; the staff member’s disregard for the rules, why that’s bad, and what the daughter should do in similar situations; the honesty issue and her unwillingness to tell her mother because she wanted to protect the staff member; why she needs to be open and honest with her mother and the consequences for not doing so.

This is a marvelous teaching moment for the camp, the mother and the daughter. Failure to follow through could result in injuries for future campers and set a bad precedent as her daughter’s moral and parental authority.

— Anonymous