LETTER: Why you should thank your local Chabad for running a day camp

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor:

When parents see the signs posted for a “Camp Gan Israel” they may wonder two things: what is the meaning of calling a camp “gan” and why “Israel?” Gan is the Hebrew word for garden. The Rebbe named the first camp “Camp Gan Israel,” literally “Garden of Israel” in honor of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the 17th-century founder of Chasidism known as the Baal Shem Tov.

Camp Gan is the garden of the Jewish people. It is a modern-day Eden in which young married couples, mentors, young adults and pre-teens make it their summer’s mission to water each flower with Torah and provide sunshine and warmth. It is an oasis where the positive energy of mitzvot reigns supreme, a beautiful garden in which each participant learns he or she is great because each person—even the smallest child–can serve. Children, their parents, counselors and mentors, all spend their summer united in a shared calling and destiny.

Camp is an opportunity for children to be re-connected to their Jewish roots, to grow in their love for their fellow Jew who, because of camp, is as close as one’s bunkmate. Camp is also an opportunity for parents to strengthen their roots as well. Being part of a Camp Gan, mothers get to tap into a supportive network of nurturing, service-minded “mentor moms” willing to share their respective joys and worries leaving each mom feeling that she is never alone in her parenting challenges, even the age old problem of bored kids in summer!

But, camp does not end when summer does. The “family” and network of “Gan” families translates into cherished future play-dates for one’s child; an offer to babysit older children upon the birth of a new baby; the priceless gift of community in which one gets to spend Rosh Hashanah at the Shul teeming with Camp Gan kids. Now when one’s child tastes apples and honey — they are literally tasting the unity of the Jewish people — as their summer bunkmates and best friends from camp are present at Shul. “Eden” miraculously blooms into a support-group for all Jewish families in the community. A loving family that continues to provide Ruach and Unity all school year long—until summer comes back around again, Hallelujah!

As campers grow in age their camp experience also matures into service opportunities to give back to the next J-generation. They are called upon to serve as Counselors- in-Training, the great calling of being a positive role model for younger Jewish children. They become more sensitive and nurturing in their role as brothers and sisters in their own families and, even, psychologically prepare for the day when, eventually, they too will be Jewish mothers and fathers. A day, not so far away after all, when their greatest yearning will be to create a loving Jewish home for their children. The skills learned in camp contribute to the great yearning for Shalom Bayit in each family. The family, the most vital cell of society, is strengthened for generations to come because of lessons learned in summer camp. When a community supports a local Jewish camp, like a Camp Gan of Israel, they essentially, child-by-child—future family by future family–build-up the stability of future families in their community.

At Camp Gan Israels throughout the world, children partake in a “mock wedding.” This light-hearted tradition allows children to witness a fun, spirited “Jewish wedding” scene, filling their consciousness’s with pride, anticipation and a positive regard for the sacred Jewish promise of a happy, G_D centered matrimony. Yet, another gift camp gives to one’s child…the image of the bride and groom as the essential developmental gift from G_D that leads to human flourishing! The Camp mock wedding gives children a mental model that matrimony between man and woman is a joyous, communal celebration wherein the best fruits of life and togetherness take root and become life.

Every individual needs this modeling, particularly in our modern world, as our camper children eventually become heads of households and leaders in their own community. So, thank a local Camp Gan of Israel for showing modern children the joy of Jewish weddings and the garden that family unity creates for society at large.

It is easy to see why The Rebbe saw the importance of birthing a modern Garden of Eden in summer. Every soul feels enlivened in a special way in summer. Children’s friendships in camp mirror the desire in all of us to drink up the sweet nectar of Jewish Pride, Unity, Friendship and Laughter.

Yes, thank Chabad for bringing laughter into your community.

Jodi Weisz


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