Written by Rabbi Moishe Kievman
Camp is the most special time of a child’s year. It’s also the most educational part of their year. Unlike school, where kids are in learning mode, yet for some reason are not always excited to go, camp is fun, full of exciting activities and always looked forward to by all kids! They’re in a great mood and ready to soak things in!
Many kids who have a difficult time memorizing what they learn in school, have a much easier time memorizing camp songs and every silly skit & shtick they see in camp. They remember it with every hand movement, detail & nuance. The same kid who’s failing school is excelling in camp!
For this reason, The Rebbe established the first Camp Gan Israel in NY over 60 years ago, with the goal to capture the best of the child’s year and infuse it with good character traits and a noninvasive education that kids look forward to.
Gan means a garden – a pleasurable place to spend time and where things grow. Israel, in addition to being the name of all Jews, is also the name of the founder of Chassidim, the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Thus, Camp Gan Israel (or CGI as its lovingly known) is a garden where kids grow in every way, from learning how to be a mench to the proper way for a Jew to tie his shoes.
Between overnight camps and day camps, today there are over 400 Camp Gan Israels, with more than 150,000 campers attending this summer!
When Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was a child of five years old, his father said to him: “My son, have no fear from any one, except G‑d. Love every Yid, whoever he may be and however he may be, with all the Fire of your soul!” These two things -The Rebbe taught – fear of G‑d and love of our fellow man, accompanied Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov throughout his life and was the guiding force to his holy work. And it’s these 2 things that are infused in every child that attends a Camp Gan Israel.
Many activities at Gan Israels focus on getting rid of children’s fears. From swimming lessons with professional instructors to encouraging kids to play a sport that they’re not yet good at. From animal therapy to exploring new kinds of art, children are fully immersed in exploring new experiences. And when kids learn to let go of fears together with other kids, there’s a magical bond that develops between them! A bond that surely will last a lifetime!