By Logan C. Ritchie / lritchie@atljewishtimes.com

Leah Sollish knows how to run a summer camp. After all, she is a mother of five boys ranging from 8 months to 10 years old. Lovingly referred to as “Gan Izzy” by intown residents, Sollish is the director of Camp Gan Israel in Midtown Atlanta.

In her third year with Camp Gan Israel, Sollish is promoting big changes. Previously, Intown Jewish Preschool was a feeder for Camp Gan Israel. However, IJP is changing from a 10-month preschool model to a year-round facility more indicative of Jewish day care.

This summer, IJP is offering camp at its site for children ages 2 to 5. Camp Gan Israel is creating a new program for children ages 6 to 11.

“Our philosophy is the same, but our programming has changed. We will focus on taking care of the earth and appreciating nature in our new nature-based camp,” Sollish said.

Garden art, recycling projects, food growing and cooking are some of the activities in the works for this summer. Field trips include Serenbe Farms for a lesson on farm-to-table practices, the Chattahoochee Nature Center for a look at environmental practices and Noah’s Ark for a day with exotic animal rescues.

Music, sports, swimming and art are regularly scheduled throughout the sessions.

Though Camp Gan Israel is not focused on religion or religious practice, Sollish said: “We have morning prayer in the form of song as well as a discussion of a mitzvah each day.  We are focused on instilling a sense of pride and joy in Judaism and being Jewish.”

Rabbi Ari Sollish, her husband, is the founder and director of Intown Jewish Academy. He will be present with the children to lead trips, science activities and Jewish lessons.

Decatur parent Elizabeth Lenhard started sending her daughters to Camp Gan Israel years ago. “Schlepping my kids to the JCC or putting them on the bus didn’t appeal to us, so it was an intown camp or nothing,” she said. “At the time, the girls were 3 and 5, and I loved how sweet, small, warm and welcoming the camp was for little ones. The kids did classic campy activities: art, sports, water play, and tons of singing and playing. As my kids have grown, the camp has kept up with them, offering field trips and electives, so even my 8-year-old was still engaged last summer.”

Camp Gan Israel is staffed by high school junior and senior girls and college-age women. “These girls come from New York only to work at our camp,” Sollish said. “They desire to work with children and give them a good time.”
New this year is a transportation option from locations in Decatur, Toco Hills and possibly Tucker, depending on demand. The goal is to attract and cater to families who may not otherwise attend Jewish summer camp. Sollish wants campers to know that “Judaism is warm and deep. You can be cool and have a good time while being Jewish.”

Sollish said Camp Gan Israel will be based at a school near Piedmont Park, although the location has not been finalized.

For more information about Camp Gan Israel and Intown Jewish Preschool camp, visit www.cgiintown.org. Registration is open.