By Yakir Havin
It is no secret that Chabad camps have a profound impact on their respective communities. At camp, children across the spectrum are infused with positive and enthusiastic feelings towards Judaism in an environment which promotes Torah values such as camaraderie, generosity, and love for a fellow Jew.
However, it is often easy to overlook the manner in which these values are being transmitted. All too often, counselors arrive to camp full of energy only to find that they need to print a short d’var Torah from online, quickly skim it over, and then teach it to their learning class. It’s safe to say that such a situation leaves a lot to be desired.
At their very core, every camp needs an educational system. Every educational system needs a curriculum. And no curriculum is truly complete without well-trained staff to teach the information in an engaging way so that campers can embrace and retain what they learn.
The CKids camp network, a division of Merkos 302, provides for all of this and more.
The CKids Retreat which was held earlier this year in Bushkill Inn and Conference Center offered a collaborative space for shluchim and shluchos camp directors across the continent to share ideas, resources, and support. The directors were also treated to a keynote address from Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the American Camps Association (ACA), who highlighted the need for a focus on education in camps as much as — or more than — anything else.
The fruit of this gathering is the CKids camp curriculum, which is now available for purchase. The creation of the curriculum has been kindly sponsored by the Duchman Family.
This year, the curriculum focuses on the Twelve Pesukim, featuring daily courses replete with activities, discussions, stories, and lessons. Each course is centered on one of the Twelve Pesukim — or Torah Tools, as they are known in the curriculum — and there are multiple courses per pasuk.
Rabbi Yehuda Matusof, director of Camp Gan Israel of West Hartford, explained the value that the CKids curriculum has brought, and continues to bring, to his camp. “Directors have a million things on their plates before the summer; there’s no time to think about what to actually teach the kids.” This is a common issue, but the creation of the curriculum allows for camp directors to focus on ensuring that their camp itself runs smoothly, with the comforting knowledge that their campers are receiving a cutting-edge learning experience as well.
Additionally, in order that camp staff do not just have the proper information, but also the right tools to impart that information, CKids provides professional training for all staff. Rabbi Zalmy Kudan — recipient of the Golden Acorn award from the ACA — runs online training programs under the CKids banner for directors and counselors. After completing the online program, staff members receive their ACA-endorsed education credits.
But the CKids camp network is about more than just a curriculum and staff. A WhatsApp group has been established for all the camp directors, in which resources and support are shared between the different shluchim and shluchos. Mrs. Miriam Gerber of Camp Gan Israel of Philadelphia commented that “it’s very helpful that somebody is taking the job of centralizing camp. Whenever anyone needs something, all we have to do is post it on the WhatsApp group, and at least five different people will give you ideas.” This collaborative flow of information helps ensure that many perspectives are taken into account, and that the best ideas are always put forward and considered.
The campers, too, get to share in this unifying experience during the annual CKids Global Rally held during camp. Children from camps across the continent participate in a live video rally where they recite pesukim, and this year campers will enjoy a screening of a video tying into the theme of the Twelve Pesukim. The rally helps children feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and no matter how small or remote their camp may be, they are important and they matter. It’s a way for campers from different camps to connect to one another under the same banner with the same ideals.
“It was always the Rebbe’s intention that Gan Israel be a place of learning. The Torah that a child learns every day is what sets apart Jewish camps from every other camp in the world,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice-Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. “The children are so eager to learn more about Yiddishkeit, and their camp education must be taken seriously.”
Educating the youth of today is a shared responsibility, and a great one at that. But when a curriculum is prepared, staff are professionally trained, and there is a wide network of support, it goes a long way to taking the load off the shoulders of the shluchim and shluchos who are already putting in immense work to ensure the furtherance of Yiddishkeit and Jewish education.