/BY MINDY RUBENSTEIN/ //SPECIAL FOR THE AJT//
Randy Faigin David knows there are many summer camps in and around Atlanta, but for over a decade she and her husband, Ken, have sent their children to Camp Gan Israel – Intown.
Fondly dubbed Camp Gan Izzy, this is the camp’s 11th year in Atlanta. Once families start there, it seems, they keep coming back.
“My favorite part,” explained David, “is that the children feel loved and I know they are being well taken care of. Sometimes with camps, you worry about whether your child will get lost in the crowd of different kids that appear each week. I know the kids will be appreciated as individuals whenever they are at Camp Gan Israel.”
The camp’s convenient intown location is central to nearby communities such as Virginia Highlands, Morningside, Grant Park, Toco Hills, Decatur, Midtown and Buckhead, and offers easy access to local sites like Piedmont Park.
For the older children, camp trips are frequent and very popular. Campers venture to places like Six Flags, Legoland, Malibu Grand Prix, bowling, and swimming at Piedmont Park’s state-of-the-art swimming pool.
Lila David, 11, speaks fondly of her Camp Gan Israel experience. “The field trips are always really fun and I always love going to the pool,” said Lila. “Shabbos parties are also really fun.”
The purpose of the camp is to “create bonds and relationships that the children can remember fondly as their Jewish connection,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, director of Chabad Intown, “Positive Jewish experiences are crucial for future Jewish involvement of our youth.”
In addition to field trips, the camp boasts various sports with professional coaches, as well as organized electives like woodworking, art, chess and drama.
“There’s a certain basic structure to the camp, and then campers can choose specialized activities that appeal to them,” he added.
Counselors are fun, enthusiastic and passionate about Jewish life and
Jewish children. The counselors in the preschool-age camp are the year-round teachers of the Intown Jewish Preschool. All counselors are specially trained in safety and communicating with children, and are CPR certified.
“Our counselors are filled with a certain joy of life,” he said. “They are excited to be there at camp and to be there with the kids. They show the campers a really good time, and inspire them Jewishly.”
In fact, the spirit of Judaism permeates all aspects of camp life, including fun bus rides with Jewish songs, and Jewish-themed camp days and activities.
“The counselors are great role models. They show the children that you can be Jewish and excited about Judaism and still be cool.”
Camp takes place at Chabad Intown’s youth campus, located across the street from Piedmont Park. During the school year, the campus houses the Intown Jewish Preschool; but over the summer months, children through age 10 enjoy the beautiful grounds.
During its largest summer, the intown Atlanta-based Camp Gan Israel boasted more than 100 children.
The preschool and camp facility were built from the ground up with children in mind – fun, safety, security and creativity were all part of the design and planning, said Dena Schusterman, the preschool’s director. The custom-built playground, she added, has various sections that are suitable for children of all ages.
“Big kids come to camp and love all the activities that are geared just for them,” she said.
For parents, the camp has the added benefit of flexible ages and hours. Children ages 2 to 10 are able to attend camp.
The camp is divided by age; with the Kiddie Camp serving children fewer than 5 and the regular camp geared for children 6 to 10. Optional expanded hours offer childcare from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., which can be a huge help for working parents.
The camp also offers parents another element of convenience – younger and older groups can all come to the same facility, saving parents from having to stop at different places.
There are more than 150 other Camp Gan Israel’s around the country and the world – the first Camp Gan Israel began in upstate New York in 1956.
“Part of a vast network of camps, we can pool our expertise, collaborate with other camps, and stay up-to-date on the latest games, activities and trips that make the kids happy,” Rabbi Schusterman said. “We tap into those resources.”
“My favorite part is the enthusiasm and loving nature of the counselors,” said Erin Chernow, whose two boys have attended the camp. “The activities are fantastic – sports, outings, art, cooking, swimming. My kids loved playing with their friends and going on the field trips. They loved to cheer for their bunks and to make challah. I could not ask for a better experience for my kids.”
Chabad Intown is involved in programs for kids all year round, reaching out to Jewish families of all backgrounds and nurturing children in a loving environment. From Mommy and Me to Hebrew School to youth events, the camp is an extension of the year-round programming.
“We have a lot of experience and know how to influence children in a positive way,” Rabbi Schusterman said. “During the summer we keep on doing what we do best.”
The camp runs for six weeks starting June 23. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with early drop-off beginning at 8:30 a.m. and late pick-up until 6:30 p.m. Families who have never sent their children to camp receive one free week of camp with a paid week. For more information, visit www.cgiintown.com.