(lubavitch.com) It’s summer in Australia, and despite a depressing economy, the numbers at Camp Gan Israel of Melbourne have grown, says camp director Rabbi Moshe Kahn.
Camping season opened on December 15th this year, with some 900 campers, ages 8-16, enrolled in the two week summer sleep-away and day camps, with separate boys and girls divisions.
“Our camp is geared to kids from all backgrounds, and our campers include religious and secular kids from many different areas,” explains Kahn, whose wife Dina, directs the girls division.
Eleven years ago, when the Kahns began at Gan Israel, there were about 350 campers. The growth to almost triple that amount makes it the largest Jewish camp in the southern hemisphere today.
“Many of the campers had little or no exposure to Judaism prior to camp, but here they’re in a Jewish atmosphere at all times,” says Rabbi Kahn. “Our aim is to instill Jewish pride within our campers and to motivate them towards greater observance in general.”
The camp provides scholarships for children who cannot afford camp fees, sets an exciting camping program of sports and physical activities in a Jewish context, giving campers the best of all worlds.
This year, the boys camp chose “kosher” as its theme, raising awareness about kosher observance. The girls camp focused on iChange, integrating the idea of achieving steady and continuous change for the better.
Nochum Greenwald is a veteran counselor. “There was a certain sense of togetherness I felt in this camp; there was a very warm feeling of companionship.” The 20 year old Brooklyn native is a student at the Yeshiva Gedolah in Melbourne, and intends to continue his friendship with the campers well after the summer is over.
When Chabad representatives Rabbi Dan and Mrs. Naomi Avital moved to Canberra, Australia in early 2009, Orit Karny decided to enroll her 9 year old son, Kai at the Chabad camp.
Kai enjoyed a Jewish immersion experience, and decided to share his desire to keep kosher with his family. Orit Karny exudes pride when she describes her son’s commitment:
“He wouldn’t even use the knife that had touched non-kosher meat. He changed dramatically at camp,” she says, happy to accommodate him, and grateful for the camp experience that inspired her son to want to live thoughtfully as a Jew.
“He now loves to study Torah,” she beams.