Mixing Fun with Faith


Surrounded by their peers, children soak up spirituality in the relaxed environment of area summer camps Now in its third year, Camp Gan Israel gives Jewish children between the ages of 5 and 12 the chance to explore their cultural and religious heritageand participate in standard camp activities such as arts and crafts at the same time. The day camp is sponsored by the Chabad of Peoria.

Rabbi Eli Langsam, who heads the local Chabad, said the camp offers a chance for all Jewish children to come together with self-pride and self-awareness. Summer programs offering Jewish education are important for the children, especially if they are not attending Jewish schools, said Esti Kaplinsky, head counselor at the camp.

Langsam said Camp Gan Israel makes children enthusiastic about their Jewish faith, an enthusiasm that can spread to their friends and family. To make faith exciting for the kids, the camp incorporates religious instruction into singing, art and other activities. For example, because this summer's theme is "On a Journey to Israel" the campers have filled out passports with their Jewish names and birthdays, Kaplinsky said.

One activity at the camp involved a trip to local grocery stores to learn about kosher foods, or foods that are prepared or can be prepared in accordance with Jewish law.

"It was fun going around in groups and finding kosher things in alphabetical order," said Lauren Steinberg, 10. The Chicago girl, who was staying with Peoria-area relatives, said she came back for another year of the camp because the previous year had been so much fun. "It's fun being proud that you're Jewish and being with other Jewish kids,"
Steinberg said.

But the camp isn't just about speaking Hebrew and reading the Torah all day. Earlier this month campers got to learn karate and watch a self-defense demonstration. "We try to get the activities that the kids enjoy and also activities that attract kids to the camp," Langsam said.