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Jewish Pride – Day camp kids learn about their heritage

By Michael Cronk – The Sunnyvale Sun

Like any group of youngsters their age, the children at Camp Gan Israel were out to have a good time. And they did.

There was storytelling, games, arts and crafts, and field trips where they jumped and shouted, went bowling and flew down giant inflatable slides.

“We want to give them a good time,” said counselor Mussi Levin, 17.

But central to all the fun and games was giving the kindergarteners through fourth- graders an uplifting, positive Jewish experience.

“That’s the sum total of what we’re doing. We give them a core identity of who they are,” said Rabbi Yisroel Hecht of the Chabad of Sunnyvale.

”The things they get in camp are very positive, and it sticks with them. It’s an enriching experience emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

Most of the 23 children enrolled in the weeklong winter camp at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale attend public schools. Many of them have Hebrew names like Mendel, Shmuli, Esty and Leeor. Some of them have had very limited experience with Jewish traditions and practices.

“They come from varied backgrounds,” said Rabbi Hecht. ”We want to give them a feeling of Judaism irregardless of the religiosity of their households.”

Levin, the daughter of Rabbi Josef Levin of the Chabad of the Greater South Bay in Palo Alto, started going to camp when she was 5 years old.

“I come from a religious background, and I’ve always been in Jewish school,” she said. ”There are very few religious kids here.”

Levin added that whether the children are part of the religious community, they should feel that “We’re Jewish and we’re proud. We want to give them pride and let them know about their heritage, to know themselves.”

Besides Levin, the camp’s counselors included two of her classmates from a Jewish boarding school in Chicago. They volunteered and received no pay, and they were kept busy. They chaperoned the children, read to them, led prayers, supervised the games and crafts activities and performed skits–all of which are designed to give the children a feeling for the spiritual, ethical and ceremonials aspects of Judaism.

The theme of winter camp week was the Jewish home. Each day focused on a different room in the Jewish household. With the living room, for example, the youngsters learned about the ethical principles of Judaism such as honoring one’s parents. In the kitchen, the children learned about kosher dietary laws and how to recognize kosher symbols.

Leeor Acrich, 8, a third-grader from Sunnyvale, said the field trips were probably her favorite thing about camp. And the children got to go on fantastic field trips. Three of the best were the bounce houses, slides and air hockey game at Pump It Up in Sunnyvale, and trips to the hands-on, multi-media Tech Museum in San Jose and Zeum in San Francisco.

Besides the field trips, Leeor said she learned a lot about being Jewish.

”We learned about Jewish stuff and the different rooms in a Jewish home–what you have inside them and what you do inside them,” she said, “like the Jewish bedroom. That’s where we wake up, wash our hands and say special prayers in the morning.”

Leeor said that when she grows up, she intends to be religious. ”I’m sure I’m proud to be a Jew.”

Mendle Greenberg, 5, of Palo Alto, a kindergartner at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, said he liked going on the field trips. “And I liked the plays the counselors did. And I went on a scavenger hunt to find kosher food at kosher Albertson’s.”

When he was asked what kosher meant, Mendle replied: ”It’s very hard to explain.”

Rabbi Hecht, a father of four, knows all about day camps. He said he grew up in West Hartford, Conn., “away from, so to speak, the larger Jewish community.” He first went to camp at age 7. He had such a positive experience he went on to become a camp counselor in Florida, Milwaukee, Wis. and Manchester, England. He arrived in the Bay Area in 1997 to work as a camp counselor, and later became a camp director.

He said he’s seen first-hand the positive effect a youth camp can have on a young Jew.

”I had one man tell me that camp was the Jewish experience of his life,” said Rabbi Hecht. “If 30 years from now, someone else can say that they’re proud to be Jewish and are bringing up their family that way, we will have been successful. If they also develop the traditions, that’s great.”

The winter camp is one of the many programs run by Chabad of Sunnyvale–one of more than 2,500 Chabad Lubavitch Centers in the United States and approximately 4,000 worldwide. It conducts summer camps for youngsters and a myriad of adult education classes and activities. It also holds public celebrations such as the lighting of the Menorah during Chanukah last month at Homestead Lanes. The goal of the centers is to foster Jewish identity, pride and knowledge.


  • 1. Cares in Crown Heights wrote:

    Hashem is defenitely shepping
    Chassidishe Nachas. I’m very proud
    to be associated with Chabad.

  • 3. apple wrote:

    I am so impressed by those girls who came from Chicago jut for Shlichus purposes!
    It is a real comfort to know that Chabad is raising such fine yong women.

  • 6. camp wrote:

    I was always so impressed with many of the Lubavitch GirlsHigh School Girls. They are so real and have such good middos!
    I am not shocked that it was those girls who made such an impression on the camp kids! I am sure you are making the Rebbe proud!


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