By Bruria Efune – Chabad.org
As part of the CKids camp network, local Chabad emissaries will be responsible for the ongoing funding and programming of their camps, working in close collaboration with CKids. The Foundation for Jewish Camp will provide training for the professional development of camp management, staff management, staff training, recruitment, facility use and general best practices.
“The new overnight camps are sure to have a strong effect on the Jewish future of children who attend,” says Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, director of Chabad’s Suite 302, which develops and provides centralized programs and services for Chabad centers worldwide, including CKids. “After living in a Jewish environment for a few weeks in the summer, they come home more engaged and involved in Judaism. We know that will have a tremendous impact on them for the rest of their lives.”
In a talk addressing Chabad Chassidim in 1981, the Rebbe said, “The influence and education of a proper summer camp can be much greater even than a good school; in camp, the children spend the entire 24 hours of the day under the influence of the education. At school, the child returns home after classes and therefore it only has a partial effect on the child. A camp where the spirit of holiness and Judaism envelops the child all the time, without interruption, can make an enormously good impression on the mind and soul of the child.”
After the establishment of the first Camp Gan Israel in 1956, the network of Chabad camps began to spread. In 1958, an overnight camp was opened in Canada with detailed guidance and blessings from the Rebbe. That same year, Chabad in Israel began opening a chain of day camps, which the Rebbe sent instructions to also call it “Camp Gan Israel.”
In the summer of 1959, Camp Gan Israel Italy, was opened by Rabbi Gershon Mendel and Bassie Garelik the first of its kind in Europe. The Gareliks had arrived in Milan just six months earlier, sent by the Rebbe as his emissaries to Italy.
Growth of Gan Israel Over the Decades
Over the years, Gan Israel has grown tremendously, and many Chabad emissaries around the world have opened their own branches. In 2018, a tally found that there were 524 Gan Israel camps in 40 countries worldwide, with a total attendance of 150,000 Jewish children. The network has since grown beyond count and continues to expand as the largest network of Jewish camps in the world.
In recent decades, most Chabad overnight camps in North America attracted children from homes that are already religious, making it difficult for children with less Jewish education to fit in.
To fill that void, there are already three established CKids overnight camps: a boy’s camp in Florida;, both a girl’s and boy’s camp in Wisconsin; and a girl’s camp in Denmark. Each camp is run independently with grants and various forms of help provided by CKids. The new $2.5 million grant will bring the total of CKids-affiliated overnight camps to seven: Six in North America and one in Europe.
“It’s living 24/7 in the environment of Judaism,” says Loewenthal. “Not in a classroom setting where you’re trying to give over information in a top-down setting, but in a day of fun and excitement. It’s really living Judaism, playing sports with a yarmulke on, saying a blessing before eating—every part of Jewish life and with counselors as role models. It’s sure to change these young Jewish lives.”