Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Av 5764 - July 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Innovative Summer Program for Israeli Girls
By M. Samsonowitz

When June rolls around in Israel, teachers, school counselors and newspaper editorialists in the religious community begin lamenting that the upcoming ten week summer vacation is a recipe for trouble. They warn parents to guard their children from the "street" and that a few weeks of boredom in the summer can undo the educational impact of an entire year.

This concern is not exaggerated. Lev L'achim which runs the Lev Shomea trouble hotline reports that about 50 girls leave the derech every year, with dozens more suffering scars on their soul deriving from detrimental summer influences. The direct cause of this is the two-month summer vacation which is long on boredom and short on supervised and enjoyable activities. The problem is especially acute in the sensitive early teen years when students are in the 9th-10th grades.

For many years, yeshivas arranged week-long overnight camps for their students during their much shorter (three-week) bein hazmanim, to provide them with a supervised, interesting program of study, sports, lectures and activities.

In contrast, girls' high schools only offered a 4-day overnight camp sometime during the month of July, leaving the remaining 9 weeks open. Principals were aware that the lack of activity left their students exposed to negative influences, but they had no solution.

Some girls keep themselves busy in the summer by helping their mother with the younger children and visiting relatives. Today, however, the temptations are overpowering and too easily accessible. Parents are often unaware of the ease with which their daughters can surf on a friend's computer or just take a bus downtown. Educators say that all girls are in danger, including the best.

The problematic situation is compounded because people have no money to spend on extras. Even a simple summer course of six lessons costs hundreds of shekels which many parents simply cannot afford.

Mr. Yaakov Melohn from New York was shocked when he heard about the situation in Israel. "I asked friends in Israel why they didn't send their children to camps for summer vacation as we do in the U.S. I couldn't believe that they didn't even exist," he explained. Mr. Melohn discovered that the reason was primarily money: most parents could not afford to pay thousands of shekels for summer fun for their children.

Mr. Melohn contacted askonim in Israel and immediately traveled to Israel to promote a summer camp program. He met with HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, and received his approval for the program and a letter of recommendation.

After intense deliberations with askonim and school principals, Mr. Melohn offered to subsidize a trial six-week camp program for three leading religious girls high schools: Darkei Rochel (Rav Mendelson's "Snif") and Merkaz Bais Yaakov (Rav Leiberman's "Chodosh") in Jerusalem, and Rav Wolf's high school in Bnei Brak. It was assumed that 300 girls from each high school's 1,000 girl student body would want to join the program. To everyone's amazement, instead of the expected 900 girls, almost the entire 3,000 wanted to join.

The full program features water parks, trips to the north of the country, swimming with aerobic exercises, workshops, famous guest lecturers, historical tours and video presentations. The program is generally held in the afternoon and includes days off after long trips, Fridays and fast days.

With the first part of the program behind them, the camp organizers feel it was a resounding success.

Mrs. Tamar Bornstein, the coordinator for the Merkaz Bais Yaakov summer camp program, says that the response of the girls to the camp was overwhelming.

"We planned the program for 300 girls, expecting that they would drop in and out at their convenience. Instead, everyone came full time. No one wanted to miss a single day of the program," she says. "We scheduled only one event for the morning and received a barrage of protests from both girls and mothers. `Why should we have to miss this program?' everyone complained. I hear from parents that their daughters come home and tell them they never had such fun. Girls have told me themselves, `This year we hit the jackpot!'"

The first 2 weeks included 6 classes of sewing lessons (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced), making petit fours, setting up a buffet, first aid, computers, computerized graphics, exercise and nutrition and photography.

The roster of popular guests speakers included Rav Menachem Stein, Rav Immanuel Tehillah, Rav Moshe Einhorn, and Rav Boruch Greineman. One woman lecturer spoke about keeping mitzvos with mesirus nefesh in Holland during WWII. Other popular women lecturers who are difficult to get during the year also featured in the program. The lectures were as popular as the workshops and trips.

Other exciting activities included a panel discussion, video screenings, a satire, a drama on Hilchos Shemiras Haloshon, a video show on Kibbud Av Vo'eim, and a historical hike on Mt. Zion.

"The girls received this incredible program for a minimal participation fee of 100 NIS. There is no way we could have done it without Mr. Melohn's help," says Mrs. Bornstein. "I constantly heard positive feedback from mothers. They all feel that their daughters received something very special from the summer program. We didn't even dream it would be that successful."

A vital ingredient in the program's success is the fact that it was organized by the girls' own schools. Parents are understandably reluctant to entrust their daughters to a summer program organized by anonymous individuals, but had full trust in the school's staff. Because of that, all the parents were eager for their daughters to join.

A significant benefit of the program was that the school was able to give the girls enrichment on subjects rarely touched during the school year, such as an in-depth understanding of the Three Weeks. This period is usually bypassed because school is out in the summer. The camp featured a special four- hour program which included a lecture on the Churban, a video on the Holocaust, and a related activity. The school rented the large Aperion hall so that graduates could attend this special program in addition to the campers.

The summer camp's program has generated unexpected problems. Other girls' schools who heard about the program in the Merkaz Bais Yaakov and Darkei Rochel and made a flurry of phone calls to ask why their schools were not included.

An unexpected spin-off of this year's summer program is a decision by participating principals to give more vacation time to the girls throughout the year while reducing the long break in the summer.

Unfortunately, thousands of religious girls throughout Israel still have no camp to go to and are at risk of spiritual decline. It's extremely necessary to provide camp for these girls.

Mr. Melohn's representatives are already working to expand the summer camp program to more religious girls high schools in Israel, contingent on the public's support. While the format of the future summer camp may vary according to need, the goal remains the same as this year -- quality and enjoyable time spent in a kosher environment.

The camp's organizers say that the real cost of the 6 week summer camp per girl is $300 (a small fraction of what camp costs in the U.S.). $300 is all it takes to ensure that a girl has a healthy, positive experience in the summer.

The U.S. organizers of the camp are seeking sponsors to fund the costs of the camp next year. When you pay for your own child in camp, ensure that a deserving Israeli girl can also enjoy this wonderful experience. Those interested in taking part in this heralded project should contact: Rabbi D. Weinberger of Cong. Shaaray Tefila, Tel: 516-239-2444 Ext 103, Fax: 516-239-2199, or write: rabbi@shaaray-


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