Warmer weather may feel like a distant memory, but the hazy days of summer will be back before we know it—and Camp Gan Israel of West Hartford will be here to welcome campers for a summer full of Jewish experiences and fun. Founded in association with Chabad of Greater Hartford in 1979, Camp Gan Israel (affectionately known as “Camp Gan Izzy”) remains part of the largest and fastest growing network of Jewish day camps in the world. Each summer program is designed to instill pride in campers’ shared Jewish heritage and the Land of Israel (with plenty of fun along the way). The camp offers a six-week summer program for children ages 3 - 12, with sessions running in summer months from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. with early- and after-care options. Read below as Camp Gan Israel’s office administrator, Miriam Gopin, looks back on a successful season, looks forward to next year’s program, and reflects on what makes the camp so special in the lives of campers and counselors alike.
Over the past 43 summers, Camp Gan Izzy has inspired, entertained, and educated thousands of Jewish children—helping them develop both joy and pride in their Judaism. After several years of lower attendance due to COVID, last summer marked a “rebound” for our program, and we heard so much joy on that count from children and parents alike.
All of us at Camp Gan Izzy are proud to be a tradition for Jewish families throughout the Greater Hartford area, with many of our alumni now in adulthood and with children of their own who have followed in their footsteps as Camp Gan Izzy campers! Over the years, we have served children whose families are very active in local Jewish life, as well as many who came with no connection to our larger Jewish community. For those campers, Camp Gan Izzy furnished a bridge to other Jewish households, synagogues, and local Jewish organizations.
Each year, we also reach out to children from financially distressed homes for whom enrollment in camp may seem unaffordable. Whenever possible, we help put Camp Gan Izzy within reach for these young people, giving them a welcoming and fun summer experience.
I always find it so rewarding to watch our campers discover their Judaism—and realize how joyful and beautiful Jewish life can be. Many of our campers arrive not knowing the concept of a Hebrew name, which we quickly rectify! Just last summer, I heard one young woman reply, after being referred to by her “regular” name, “Don’t call me that—call me by my Hebrew name!” Chabad House Rabbi Joseph Gopin held a special service with a Torah reading for this young girl, with her parents and friends in attendance. It was a heartwarming and emotional experience for her parents to see her take her rightful place among the Jewish people.
Of course, no summer camp would be complete without fun, fun, fun—and we manage to have plenty of it. Last summer, our campers enjoyed a presentation from the “Inventor Mentor,” a project-based entertainer who provides young people a forum to imagine, experiment, and invent. Our summer also included a visit from Dr. Schnitzel, a “mad scientist” who brings real-life science experiments to life through audience participation. (He even persuaded our rabbi to participate!) Through presentations such as these, our campers learn, without even realizing they’re learning.
Recently, Ali Bluestone, a parent to several of our campers, had this to say about her family’s experience with Camp Gan Israel: “Our family loves Camp Gan Izzy! Our children come home with so much excitement and pride about being Jewish. They also love the variety of activities, including laser tag, inflatable water slides, rockets, master chef, and—of course—the trips. Every day is different and so much fun.”
In addition to benefiting campers, Camp Gan Izzy also offers young people an opportunity to become counselors as they move into their teens. Last summer, nearly twenty young women joined us as counselors, fully embracing the opportunity to help our campers love Judaism. Over the years, so many of our counselors have gone on to run a Chabad house, teach in Jewish day schools, or even relocate to Israel.
Although we’re all gearing up for the winter months, it’s not too early to start thinking about next summer’s camp experience! We invite your children, or Jewish children you know, to investigate the many programs we have at Camp Gan Izzy and start planning their adventure. From our “Arts & Nature Camp” to “Pioneer” camp, we serve young people from the ages of three through 12. Visit our website to learn more, or contact me at email@example.com.