Arts, Crafts and Mysticism at Poconos ‘Tanya Camp’

From by Faygie Levy Holt:

What happens when you combine arts-and-crafts, science and serious Jewish thought? If you’re enrolled in the girls’ overnight Camp Gan Israel in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains this summer, you get “Tanya Camp”—an interactive way to learn certain Chassidic concepts.

The 10-day workshop was led by longtime educator Rabbi Shais Taub, author of Map of Tanya: Personal Edition, who created the curriculum six years ago to teach his own children ideas that can be difficult to comprehend.

For instance, one unit focused on the idea in the Tanya—the seminal work of Chabad philosophy—that human breath comes from deeper within a person than speech.

“It says in the Zohar that G‑d speaks everything into being, in contrast with the neshama [‘soul’], which is breathed,” explained the rabbi. “Rather than teach that concept using words, I ran a demonstration where one girl speaks into an oscilloscope, which measures sound waves, and another girl blows bubbles in a cup. Then we see who gets tired first.”

After a few trials, the rabbi said everyone realized that talking is less tiring than blowing. The concept was reinforced during a project where campers made pictures by blowing ink through a straw, instead of using a paintbrush.

In this way, “I’m able to teach a Chassidic concept in about 90 seconds,” said Taub. “Today’s youth are impatient. They think in sound bites, and you have to figure out how to work within that reality.”

Expanding the Curriculum

About 80 girls attend CGI in the Poconos and took part in the “Tanya Camp” workshops. For some of them, it was their introduction not only to Chassidic thought, but to Jewish life and practice in general, which made their reactions even more powerful for organizers.

“It was amazing to see how the children responded so well to this introduction to the deepest concepts of chassidus,” says Rabbi Gershon Sandler, director of CGI in the Poconos. “Rabbi Taub had a way of teaching that was really unbelievable. It was fascinating to see how tangible and practical he made the classes. The girls were intrigued and looked forward to seeing what came next. They were very curious, which is really the ideal way to have children learn.”

“I got great feedback from the counselors,” reported Taub, who also overheard two girls discussing one of the concepts the day after class.

After a successful run at CGI in the Poconos, Taub hopes to expand the curriculum, eventually offering it to educators for classroom use.

“My dream is to help those who teach our children to have tools to teach chassidus in the most impactful way,” he said. “It is everything, and we have to teach it. The challenge is how.”