By COLlive reporter
Why would a little girl from Idaho come into Judaica World asking to buy a picture of the Rebbe? Who were the 13-year-old girls taking a tour of The Mikvah and committing to learn more before their own future Jewish weddings?
You must have seen them. A swarm of girls in bright pink shirts took over Kingston Avenue last Wednesday, exploring the local Kosher shops, visiting the Sofer, observing a Chuppah in front of 770, and purchasing their first siddurim. They were clearly not from the neighborhood, as noted from their way of dress and their wide-eyed fascination.
They were campers of Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos, the only overnight camp of its kind for girls from public school. After 3 action-packed weeks in the scenic mountains of Pennsylvania, immersed in experiential Jewish learning and bursting with renewed Jewish pride, over 100 campers and staff enjoyed an uplifting trip to New York.
The girls attended a Jewish wedding, enjoyed a farbrengen with Rabbi Simon Jacobson, toured The Mikvah and the Jewish Children’s Museum, and learned about Jewish life with a hands-on wig demonstration by the famous Genia’s Wigs. The girls were overwhelmed by the warmth of the business owners and shoppers on Kingston Avenue, as they tried on tznius dresses, tasted Kosher sushi, and stopped a random passersby to ask questions about Judaism.
The highlight of their trip was visiting 770 and the Rebbe’s Yechidus room, followed by a trip to the Ohel. “I’ve never felt so pure and connected,” remarked an emotional 12-year-old girl as she walked out of the Rebbe’s room.
“I feel like the Rebbe is my grandfather whom I’ve never met before,” said another girl, “I’m so thankful that he started the Camp Gan Israel Network.”
These girls are typical American tweens, whose everyday lives revolve around TikTok, sports, and the full range of public school social politics. They came to camp to meet other Jewish girls, and they are returning home with a deep pride and commitment to make Yiddishkeit more prominent in their lives. They truly feel like they’re the Rebbe’s children.
The counselors and head staff were deeply moved as well. “I live in Crown Heights, and I’ve never seen my neighborhood or Yiddishkeit from this perspective before,” said Mushkie G.
“I’m overwhelmed by how connected my campers feel to the Rebbe,” explained another counselor, “I feel like I brought my children back to my Rebbe to give him Nachas.”
The camp directors Gershon and Devorah Sandler wish to thank all the business owners and members of the community who opened up their hearts and homes to the CGI Poconos family. “Our campers were so overwhelmed by the warmth of the Crown Heights community; this feeling will remain with our girls for a long time. We could never have done this alone,” remarked Sandler.
For more information about Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos or to refer a camper, visit www.cgipoconos.org or call 845.425.0903