By Chandrea Serebro
Camp Kesher is about connectons. It is kids connecting with themselves, with Hashem, with each other, and with their Jewishness. “Connections are probably one of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. ‘No man is an island’ – children need positive role models who can help guide them in the right path. Friendships are essential for a child’s self-esteem. Knowing that there is a camp that is so accepting of everyone is comforting – I cannot emphasise how much each child looks forward to this camp every year and of course, we encourage our children to connect with their roots, by instilling within them a love for Judaism and Hashem,” says Yaffit Swisa and Rochi Zimbler, Joint Rosh at Camp Kesher. It’s a summer camp with a difference.
Initially, Camp Kesher was called Bikkur Cholim but it was changed to Camp Kesher so as not to confuse people into thinking the camp is for the sick – Bikkur Cholim is simply the name of the overseeing organisation. Camp Kesher is a two-and-half-week summer camp for Jewish Orthodox children between the ages of 8-17 in Muizenberg, Cape Town. The camp features endless summer beach-filled days with a lot of Torah in between, a love of Shabbos, and helping one’s felllow Jew. At 60 years strong, “Camp Kesher is the best kept secret in the SA Jewish community. The reason for saying this is because we do not compete with other camps – our camp is very small, we have on average 60 children and 14 madrichim each year. This makes it a very warm, home-style, and caring environment in which all the kids get to know each other and help one another out, and each child is given special attention and care by handpicked madrichim. As a result, a real family-type bond is created.”
It’s ideal for children who prefer a more personal environment, but still desire a setting where they can meet people and come back home with life-long memories and friendships. “Because our incredible madrichim are able to offer one-on-one attention to the children, we are able to accept children from many different backgrounds. Some of the children who attend our camp are from families who are experiencing financial difficulties, while other parents prefer to send their children on a smaller camp that involves daily outings and one-on-one care. We thus have a very diverse group of children, from all spheres of life and with different family backgrounds and that is the amazing part of Camp Kesher. We all arrive not really knowing each other and we all leave feeling like a family.”
What many find to be one of the most unique, and engaging, aspects of Camp Kesher is that the camp does not operate according to any one ideology. While Shabbat observance and strict kashrut observance are a must for the duration, nothing is enforced or expected to be adhered to by the children in order to be involved or to get on board. “We do not force religion upon the children, nor do we have any political agenda. We try and instil within the campers a love for Judaism by exposing them to Jewish traditions, and teaching them about different aspects of our religion through tochniyot and divrei Torah at each meal. We encourage them to participate in daily davening lead by the madrichim as well as learning one-on-one with a maddie of their choice to learn more and become more familiar with their religion.”
The main objective of the camp is for the kids to have a fun, stress-free summer holiday. The organisers take them on an exciting, jam-packed holiday and do most activities that a family would want to do if they went on holiday to Cape Town. And in this way, the kids are having fun, but they are also gaining life skills and Torah knowledge and middos (good character traits) which will define them as people as they grow and develop through such experiences.
“Every day the maddies carry out a tent inspection. The idea of this is to promote tent cleanliness and a sense of unity among the campers within each tent as they need to work together to keep the tent clean and come up with war-cries to represent their tent. Here they are gaining valuable life lessons, and amazingly this is always one of the most exciting parts of camp. The children love the competition and at the end of camp we reward the tent that scored the most points throughout camp.”
Days consist of a morning outing, which is usually to the beach, an afternoon activity, which can be the likes of touring, bowling, or a trampoline park, and either a night time activity like going to a movie or the theatre, or remaining at the camp site with activities run by the maddies, or a movie on site and bonfires. “Our itinerary is filled with plenty of outings including the theatre, scratch patch, the beach, waterslides, strawberry picking, Clay Café, seal island, and so much more. We also encourage the children to give back to the community, so we visit the Cape Town Jewish old-aged home during camp where the children interact with the residents and we sing songs and entertain them for the morning, thus providing them with the opportunity to do chesed.”
It’s amazing to hear stories of children who have been to Camp Kesher in previous years and who had no previous connections with Judaism other than being Jewish. There, they had the understanding of what it is to be a Jew instilled in them in a gentle and undogmatic way, in an anvironment where they feel at home rather than threatened or judged, and, say Yaffit and Rochi, generally these children are the first to participate in any activity involving religious activity throughout the camp. “One of our favourite parts of camp is Shabbos afternoon. We spend the afternoon playing games in the hall, we have snooker tournaments and the children are all supporting each other in the games that are going on. It’s also the best time to form connections with the children. They are special, and they bring so much to our lives as well.”
“Camp Kesher was one of the most incredible and enjoyable experiences of my life. I always had such a wonderful time there and made many friendships that will last a lifetime. Attending camp for eight years really impacted my life in such a positive and meaningful way. Camp taught me to look out and care for my fellow Jew as well as inspiring me to return as a maddie and give back all that was given to me for so many years. Each year, without fail, has been inspiring, uplifting, and nurturing. Each year on camp brought its great share of fun, excitement, and new lessons that I have taken into my own personal life. I will never forget all that I have learned and experienced with my Camp Kesher family.”
For more information or to obtain an application form, visit: http://bikkurcholim.co.za/camp-kesher/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org