By YQ Media
Elyse Jarard made the choice to send her daughter Rachel to a frum overnight camp with much trepidation. She worried that Rachel would be the only non-religious girl, or that she’d come home wearing only skirts.
But Camp Gan Israel of the Poconos is not like any other frum overnight experience. Its atmosphere is one of inclusion and acceptance; Rachel returned home after three weeks raving about how much fun she had. She was also inspired—by a renewed sense of Jewish identity and feeling connected to a larger Jewish community.
What Rachel attended was a pilot program that is now officially opening after two years of research and development. This summer, Camp Gan Israel Bat Mitzvah Experience (CGI B-ME) will be redubbed Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos.
The camp will welcome girls attending public or secular private schools, who will enjoy all the benefits of the classic Gan Izzy camp: dedicated directors, enthusiastic counselors, and Jewish learning integrated into activities and trips.
Because an overnight camp is such an immersive environment, “we hope to create a really strong Jewish experience for every camper,” says Gershon Sandler, who is co-directing the camp along with his wife, Devorah.
She adds, “We want each girl to grow spiritually under our care.” The couple feels guided by the famous words of the Rebbe on Jewish camps, where “the children spend 24 hours a day under the influence of its education” (Parshas Shemini, 29 Nissan 5741).
The girls will benefit from over 15 years of experience that Gershon and his wife have in the world of summer camps. Gershon spent many years as a camper and then as a staff member at Indian Head Camp, the Pocono’s premiere private overnight experience. Since becoming a baal teshuvah, it has been his dream to bring Torah to youth through summer camp. Using their experience in launching and directing CGI Running Springs of California, the couple is confident about their camp’s opening.
In a strategic move that encapsulates their long-term vision, the Sandlers have replaced their rented property in the Poconos with a beautiful 83-acre campus, which can house up to 320 campers and staff. The purchase was made possible with the help of the AVI CHAI Foundation, UJA Federation of NY, and the Foundation for Jewish Camp—all organizations that believe in summer camp’s value in terms of Jewish education.
To enable more girls to benefit from the camp, $1,000 grants will be awarded to eligible first-time campers, and the directors will work directly with shluchim to ensure that no Jewish girl be without this experience due to financial reasons.
In addition to the overnight camp, which will run from July 1st through the 28th, the CGI in the Poconos campus will be available for retreats and shabbatons in the fall and spring.