Ellen and Joel Erlichman were tickled to hear little Zachary’s pronouncement after a particularly exciting day at camp: “I am so proud to be a Jew!” he exclaimed. Zachary and his brother Jacob were among 15 happy campers at Peoria’s first Jewish day camp, the Chabad-Lubavitch Gan Israel camp.
“My children will always treasure the time they spent at Camp Gan Israel,” says Mrs. Erlichman. It wasn’t just the sports, the great trips and the crafts. “My kids learned what it means to be a Jew.”
Chabad has been a Peoria for barely a year, but the level of Jewish activity in this small working class city makes it seem more like years. Rabbi Eli and Sara Langsam have launched a wide range of programs offering something exciting and meaningful for every age of Peoria’s 1200 Jews.
“There’s so much that’s needed here, and the Jewish community is really grateful for every opportunity to get involved in Jewish life,” says Sara Langsam who is running a Sunday school for elementary age students, a Hebrew school for teens and a pre-school.
Shortly after her arrival, Sara gave birth to a baby girl. The Rabbi and his wife threw a kiddush, and 100 people–that’s nearly 10% of the city’s Jewish population–turned out to celebrate.
In the works for Rosh Hashana, the Langsams are planning a honey-making demonstration for families. “It’ll give us an excellent opportunity to explore various themes of Rosh Hashana, and the children will get to talk to a beekeeper and observe him in action,” says Rabbi Langsam.
The Langsams have also been reaching out to Jewish students at the local college. “There is such great need for Jewish education and for Jewish students–and adults too–to experience the joy of Judaism,” says Rabbi Langsam. “We’re hoping to answer that need.”