Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month: A Look Back at Camp Chazak

Camp Chazak, a program of URJ Eisner and Crane Lake
By Marissa Frankel, MS Ed, Assistant Director URJ Eisner Camp

February 2012 is the 4th Annual Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.  A month dedicated to raising awareness and expanding the inclusivity of the Jewish community. URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps is dedicated to creating a more inclusive community, and several years ago began the planning for a camp for children with special needs.

On August 21, 2011 just days after second session wrapped, URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camp’s newest program, Camp Chazak, began its inaugural summer. Camp Chazak is a one-week program for children with various special needs, giving them the opportunity to have a Reform Jewish camp experience enriched with Eisner and Crane Lake traditions. Campers utilize all of the facilities and programming that camp has to offer with the support they need so that they can have a successful camp experience. One parent of a Chazak camper wrote, “The program was the best week my son had for the entire summer. He was proud of what he experienced and beyond proud of himself for doing the zip line and other experiences that he has never had the opportunity to do. The Jewish songs, team building, relationship building are experiences he could not have had without Camp Chazak.” The entire URJ Camps community was strengthened by Camp Chazak. During the one-week program, campers were inspired to make connections, acquire Jewish identity and build community.

Camp Chazak’s impact reaches far beyond the campers who participated in our first summer. The Eisner and Crane Lake community has grown and strengthened, and has embraced Camp Chazak. The twelve campers and families know what the “bubble” is, and can’t wait to come back next summer. One parent wrote, “I just wanted to tell you what a fantastic experience Camp Chazak was for my daughter. Not only did she have fun, meet new friends and have her first sleep away camp experience she gained so much independence and was thrilled to have been so successful. I cannot tell you what this meant for my husband and I and for our family. Thank you so much for including her and we hope to be able to do it again next year.”

As we plan for Camp Chazak’s second summer, we hope to grow by reaching more campers and families. Think of the children in your congregation, community and in your life who would benefit from Camp Chazak. For information visit eisnercranelake.urjcamps.org/chazak or contact Marissa Frankel, mfrankel@urj.org

By Susan Klau, URJ Crane Lake Camper and NFTY Northeast Member

This summer while at NFTY-NE’s Summer Institute, I had the amazing opportunity to make tzedakah boxes with campers from Camp  Chazak . One NFTY group was able to do crafts with the campers while another group worked to plan a campfire song session for later that week. I was paired up with a girl named Sophie and together we put together and painted her tzadakah box. And

Because we were having so much fun together, it didn’t feel like an hour had passed when we were told it was time for our next activity. I told Sophie that I would be just a bunk away and that I looked forward to seeing her throughout the week. A few days later, when NFTY-NE was all at a service at the Beit Am,  I saw that Camp Chazak was also joining us. I was glad that we were able to share a service together, forming a single unit through prayer.while we did that, we talked and got to know each other.  She told me all about her time at camp, the activities she was doing and how much fun she was having. I also got to meet the other campers, each so friendly and creative.

I was sitting next to my two friends when Sophie and Marissa came running over.  When I realized that Sophie wanted to sit with me, I broke into one of the biggest smiles there.  My friends cleared a space, and for most of the service, it was Sophie and me, singing and praying together. It was such a sweet moment.

I am so proud that NFTY-NE decided to share Institute with Camp Chazak. As someone who went to Crane Lake myself as a camper for many years, I love the fact that children with special needs can get to experience what I did through Camp Chazak.  Meeting the campers and working with Sophie made my week so much more fulfilling and meaningful. I am looking forward to spending time with the campers next summer and making new memories with them.

For more information contact Marissa Frankel, 201.722.0400, mfrankel@urj.org or visit http://eisnercranelake.urjcamps.org/chazak/

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