In Gan Israel, the staff are always trying to find ways to make the camp experience richer. Rich with excitement and fun, but also with meaning and significance. To that end, this year, Gan Israel has introduced a calendar for the year 5772. On each page of the calendar, there are spaces for pictures of the Rebbe which correspond to that day. There are pictures for Yomei D’pagra and pictures for Erev Yomim Tovim, among others. Campers earn stickers with pictures of the Rebbe for Davening with Kavana, learning with Hasmoda, and behaving in ways that make the Rebbe proud.
Then, they stick the pictures over the days on the calender to which they apply. These small pictures are earned from their counselors and learning teachers throughout all parts of the day. Every month on the calender also has one special Rebbe picture which represents a major Inyan for that month. These pictures are very rare and can only be rewarded by one of the Head Staff for very special behavior. Campers are all anxiously collecting as many pictures of the Rebbe as they can as they try to complete their calender.
At the end of the summer iy’h every camper will take home a full calender to use throughout next year. As the year progresses, campers (summer never ends, summer never ends), can look at their calender and live each day with a picture from the Rebbe that they earned through hard work and perseverance in doing things that make the Rebbe proud.
The first month was good. I liked it. Because I like soft serve and there was a lot of soft serve this month. To write or not to write? That is the question. A very deep one indeed. It’s hard to write about a month that was so full. Where to start? Where to start? Hmm… first day everyone arrived and unpacked, joining up with their bunks, ready to start an amazing summer. Within the first week they were off to Skate Estate, to roll in circles and avoid knocking into each other. In the midst of all that spinning in circles there was laser tag (which I personally think should be spelled “lazer” tag) going on in another room.
It felt like the summer had barely started when cars came pouring in from all directions, filled with family and friends who had come for visiting day. In case anyone could be bored on such a busy day, the camp provided a carnival with many great blowup games and activities. (Not to imply that any of the games blew up but rather that they were blown up before use.) I personally inspected and tested some of the rides and can verify that while they may not have been suitable for a twenty year old (which would explain why it seemed easier to go over those little tunnels than to try to squeeze through them) they were loads of fun anyway.
The next major event was the bivouac. No one’s really sure why it’s called that, but think it must be an old Indian word for sleeping in the rain without shelter. Anyway, every three bunks had their own fire. Wood was graciously provided by the camp, but if the fire was to last all night (as is the tradition) much more wood would need to be gathered. (Wood and would are homonyms). So as soon as all the tents were up (or – for the real men – as soon as the sleeping bags were unrolled) everyone fanned out to collect more wood, and brought back at least three or four times what had been graciously provided. The singing eating and scary stories went late into the night, till finally the campers (or most of them at least) went to sleep, while the counselors stayed up for the important task of watching the fire (read: take turns eating roasted marshmallows and throwing all of the hard collected wood into the fire). In the morning was an all-natural nature breakfast (read: eggs cooked in a pan over easy-light-soaked-in-lighter-fluid-coals in a grill).
One fine Tuesday morning the campers were intrigued to learn that the inspectors were here.It struck them as strange that they would come twice in four days, but the staff reassured them that the inspectors can come as often as they want, even twice in one week. The “inspectors” were actually yeshiva bochurim from the nearby camp HASC summer program, who had agreed to come to camp, and act as inspectors. In a fiery speech by H.C. Moshe Shemtov, describing all of the things that the inspectors had found wrong and outlining the ramifications of all of the “violations” the camp had incurred, he ended off “and so from today and till tomorrow night will be BOG WAR!” Bog war this year was a memorable one indeed, from the hilarious scavengers to the grand plays, from the great songs to the catchy cheers that each team made. As one staff member put it “-insert cool one liner here-”.
Towards the end of the first month, the campers began to smell that something was up when several buses pulled up into the camp. They probably felt a bit of a let-down when H.C. Rafi Steiner announced that Gan Israel was going to watch an international chess tournament. The breakout concluded, when Rafi finally announced that it was none other than the grand trip to Lake Compounce! By the way, Lake Compounce is a combination of a water park and an amusement park. The campers made a true Kiddush Lubavitch by always keeping their Yarmulkas and Tzitzis on while walking around the park, and even on the rides. They played and played until finally the park closed, and they didn’t get back to camp until 2:45 AM (that’s 1:45 camp time).
After such an amazing first month, with all of those trips and activities, not to mention things like banana boating or pizza bowling (which unfortunately does not involve rolling pizza down the lanes), or winning Shabbos competition, or the KIWI championship, I’m majorly looking forward to another great month of camp!
On Thursday, campers scratched their heads in confusion as coach buses pulled in to camp. “More Inspectors?” some of them speculated, but no, it was only GRAND TRIP!! As the buses loaded up for the trip to Lake Compounce, campers and staff alike were given bottled water and reminded about the importance of staying hydrated and sticking together so that no one gets lost. After an exciting bus ride featuring videos of skits put together by the Shmaryunkee (or Shmaryonky or… whatever) members, we arrived at Lake Compounce! This amazing amusement/water park was completely rented out by several frum camps, so we had the place all to ourselves. Campers had a blast, running from one ride to another stopping only for another cup of (free!) soda.
Between getting soaked on the water rides, bumped on the bumper cars, and swung about on the roller coasters, the campers just couldn’t stop having fun!
On Sunday afternoon, the camp was visited by two “inspectors” who walked around the camp “inspecting” the grounds and the bunks. Only, they weren’t inspectors, they were the Hiskashrus War breakout!! Head Counselor Moshe Shemtov broke the news to us, and after a speech in the Shul, the camp was split into three teams: עבר-Tradition, led by General Shimon Gorkin and Lt. Generals Shaykee Farkash and Mendel Blesofsky הוה-Transition, led by General Simcha Raskin and Lt. Generals Sholom Gelernter and Chezky Weiss עתיד-Future, led by General Nochum Shapiro and Lt. Generals Sruli Bronstein and Avraham Mishulovin.
The Generals led their teams in their cheers, after explaining to them the meaning of their team’s name in Avodas Hashem. The next 30 hours were packed with fun and excitement as campers worked to improve their Hiskashrus with the Rebbe by reviewing Tanya by heart, working on their Kabolas Ol and Ahavas Yisroel, and singing songs about Heilike Inyonim. As staff members furiously prepared for the plays and scavengers, campers got involved with props, backdrops, and rehearsing their parts. After three plays, three speeches, six scavengers, and countless lines of Tanya, the points were in!
This week, the entire camp went on an overnight camping trip, (or “bivouac”). Some camped out nearby in the “Rebbe’s Forest”, while others went a bit further and drove far away for their trip. At the campsite, campers spent time setting up tents and campfires followed by barbecuing and farbrenging. Everybody had a blast and it was a really amazing experience.