Home April 2012 Special Summer Place

Special Summer Place

Outdoor laser tag.  Giant hamster balls.  Trapeze.  Robotics.  An enormous haymaze.  A hockey rink.  After dropping their kids off at Camp Silver Gan Israel this summer and taking a glance at what the camp has to offer, parents may find themselves asking the directors if there are any vacancies for adults.
For nine weeks from June 25 to August 24, kids as young as two and as old as fifteen entering 10th grade will be able to run amok at the 11-acre Silver Gan Israel Day Camp in Huntington Beach.  The camp is divided into four separate age groups: Kiddie Camp for two-to-five year olds, Junior division for those entering kindergarten through third grade, Senior Division for kids entering fourth grade through seventh grade and Pioneers for those entering eighth grade through tenth grade.
This is not your typical after-school YMCA program.  Each age division follows a specially-tailored set of programs and activities that appeal to its age group, much like the YMCA, but the similarities stop there.
“We’re not a specialty camp.  I guess we’re more out of the ordinary,” said Rabbi Sender Engel, the camp director. “On a typical camp day we have karate, we have Shumen hamster balls that can carry up to two kids while their friends push them.  They have a blast with that.  We also have a haymaze made of 1,000 bundles of hay, volleyball courts, a music center, art center, kickball, archery, fencing, rock climbing, swimming pools and an e-room with video games, air hockey, fooseball and polypong – that’s four-person ping pong.”
That’s still not even close to everything the camp has to offer.  Once a week the camp hosts a show for campers.  Last year the camp hosted the TNT Dunk Squad – a pair of gymnasts who use trampolines to pull off high-flying acrobatic feats to dunk a basketball.  This year the camp will be hosting a new aerial arts program that takes place in a large trapeze outside.
“Instructors come and teach the kids how to use it,” Rabbi Sender said of the trapeze.  “It teaches them to be more confident and how to support themselves. We have such a wide array of things for the kids to do so they’re never stuck doing just one thing all day.  We go on field trips depending on the age level. And we use feedback surveys from the counselors, kids and parents to improve.  So we’re at that point where the fine-tuning is left to the small things.”
Campers are also taught about Jewish culture through innovative programs and events.  Weekend Shabbatons, Israeli dancing, challah baking, stories and contests allow for campers to get in touch with their Jewish roots.  The camp also offers age-specific Jewish culture programs to each age division so that they can connect with their heritage in a way that’s comfortable to them.
The Pioneer division, since it contains the oldest campers, also immerses its members in an atmosphere of goodwill by taking them on community involvement trips everyday. Pioneers might visit an old-age home one day, help build a house another, go to the inner city and help younger kids with projects or pick food for the poor on a farm – activities Rabbi Sender refers to as chesed.
“The Pioneers have one big trip per week.  Things like paintball, Universal Studios, Disneyland, and every second week they go somewhere like Big Bear or San Diego,” said Rabbi Sender.  “It’s a great opportunity for them to bond and connect with each other while they do Jewish things.  We hear all the time from people who attended our camp 10 years ago that they’re still connected with kids they met at camp here, became lifelong friends or even got married.”
While the camp is saturated with unique and engaging activities for campers, that doesn’t mean that the directors cut corners on safety or quality.  The American Camp Association (ACA) is the national body that accredits camps based on 300 different health and safety standards, and only 25 percent of camps in the US are accredited.  Camp Silver Gan Israel has been accredited for over forty years, with one of its co-directors serving as a visitor for the ACA.
“He visits about four different camps a year to help with their accreditation, and he always comes back and tells us we’ve got a solid program going on here,” Rabbi Sender said.  “ACA inspectors come to accredit us every two years, and for the last nine we’ve passed with a score of 100 percent.”
The campus, known for being the largest Jewish camp in the state, is protected by private security and also offers transportation for up to 170 campers from multiple areas.
“We live and breathe this camp,” Rabbi Sender added, and the excitement in his voice is palpable. “We don’t hire random counselors off the street who come in with tattoos and their friends; we hire through the Gan Israel program…You don’t usually hear of counselors wanting to keep in touch with their campers throughout the year, but it’s not uncommon here.”
Readers interested in further information may call (714) 898-005 or contact admin@CampSGI.com.

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