If the pace of Chabad Houses opening in the state of Florida is any indication, Jewish life in the sunshine state has never been more vibrant. 96 Chabad Houses serve Jewish communities throughout the entire state of Florida, with spectacular growth specifically in the area of Broward County, where Chabad has not only opened new centers, but also new communities.
Topping off such record growth, Chabad-Lubavitch of Florida announced the recent purchase of a new, $4 million campsite in Wildwood, to open for the 2004 summer season. According to Rabbi Yossi Biston, director of Chabad of Broward County and the driving force behind this development, “we will now create a camp that will cater to Jewish children of all backgrounds, especially those who, as a result of their affiliation with their local Chabad Houses, now want a more intensive Jewish experience.”
Named the Yosef Mordechai Fellig Camp Gan Israel, the camp has opened registration to Jewish boys ages 7-13 and will combine an exciting camping curriculum with a Jewish living experience in the course of a six-week program. The campground features new, beautifully equipped and fully air-conditioned bunkhouses, dining halls and activity facilities to accommodate 240 campers.
Rabbi Biston, who has extensive experience in overnight camp management, says this is the culmination of a five-year search for the perfect property. “It had to meet criteria set by the Rebbe himself,” says Biston, referring to instructions he received from the Rebbe back in the 80s, regarding the original camp, then on a rented property. The ideal property would be brand new, in a mosquito-free region. Scouring the length and breadth of Florda, Rabbi Biston inspected several locations before finding the site, formerly known as the David Lake Retreat Center, a complex that had hardly been used before its owners put it up for sale.
In addition to the main camp program which will be staffed by 50 counselors selected from Chabad communities around the world, the camp will also include a program for boys ages 14-16, under the direction of Rabbi Mendy Gutnick.
The new camp is yet another addition to the Chabad Gan Israel camp network. From modest beginnings in 1956 with a small group of children in the New York Catskill mountains, Gan Israel has evolved into a network of overnight and day camps around the world, from the Catskills to the Alps.
Whether in France, Paraguay or Florida, the Gan Israel camps attract Jewish children of all backgrounds and affiliations. The unique program, designed to combine sports and recreational activities with a strong emphasis on Jewish living, makes for a memorable summer experience that is fun-filled, stimulating and meaningful.
Gan Israel. which means “the garden of Israel,” bears the name of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. In his childhood, the Baal Shem Tov often sought solace and inspiration in the forests.
Rabbi Abraham Korf, Regional Director of Chabad of the State of Florida, recalls that Chabad of Florida opened its first Gan Israel overnight camp in Deland, in 1963. “This new camp is long overdue, and makes the services of Chabad-Lubavitch to the Jewish population of Florida, truly comprehensive.”