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Local camp connects kids to their counterparts in Israel

 
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At Caddy Camp there's a lot of talk about wishes. The campers, 6 to 11 years old, are there to fulfill some of their own, learning circus tricks, art, dance, drama, and yoga in this weekly program at the Nesheemah Yoga Center in Bogota.

But another wish, less tangible, often expressed by the youngsters who are largely from observant homes in the area, is for world peace. Many make wishes for peace in Israel, said Nancy Siegel, founder and director of Caddy Camp and the yoga center.


The centerpiece of a mural created as a gesture of support for children in Nahariya, a city under attack.

Next week, to mark Tisha B'Av, which falls on Monday night and Tuesday, campers and their pre-teen mentors will have an opportunity to send those prayers directly to children in Sderot whose homes have been under rocket fire from Hamas terrorists across the border in Gaza. In an art project Siegel has organized, the children here will create a mural with messages of support framed by a heart, to be delivered along with their personal letters to a school in Sderot. During the height of the hostilities there, schools had to close, while classes were held in bomb shelters.


CADDY Camp campers and staff pose with the mural they made on Tisha B'Av 5766.

This is the second time Siegel has involved Caddy Camp in outreach to Israeli youth. Last summer, the campers created a mural and wrote letters to children in Nahariya in a project facilitated by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which is twinned with Nahariya through Partnership '000. It proved so meaningful that Siegel decided to repeat the effort after learning about the threat to Sderot.

This summer, Nesheemah joins other local organizations that have hosted programs to provide respite to Israeli children and teens traumatized by terror. The Jewish Standard recently reported on Project Open Hearts, Open Homes, now in its sixth summer at the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township. The YJCC has welcomed two groups, each of 16 teens and pre-teens, many from Sderot and Nahariya, a city heavily damaged by Kassam rockets that landed there during last summer's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. On Sunday, the first group will depart and the second group will arrive, remaining in the community through Aug. 1', provided home hospitality by local families.

And a similar program, funded by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, will begin Wednesday at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, where many of the campers and staff are from this area, including camp director Rabbi Paul Resnick and assistant director Rabbi Amy Roth, both Teaneck residents.. Forty-five Israeli teens who lost a parent or sibling killed in war or a terrorist act will come with their counselors to the Wingdale, N.Y., campus to spend 10 days participating in regular camp activities and in a specially planned excursion to New York City.

The Caddy Camp handiwork will be hand-delivered by Odelia Shalom, a young woman visiting locally from her home in Israel. Several summers ago, Shalom and several girls lived with Siegel when they were in the United States to complete their Israeli government service (a program for religious girls in lieu of army service) and helped Siegel name her newly established yoga center. Now married with an infant, Shalom lives in Sderot where she is a schoolteacher.

"We wanted to tie in a meaningful experience for [campers] to think about their fellow Jews going through a rough time, and that the significance of Tisha B'Av, the destruction of the [First and Second] Temple, represents the [concept] that things were not so good for the Jewish people. We are creating an awareness of Tisha B'Av in a very practical way with this project," said Siegel.

Naty Gabbay, a '007 graduate of Stern College with a concentration in art therapy who lives in Teaneck, is one of those who will work with the Caddy Camp children on the mural. The three professional staff members, said Siegel, act "as facilitators, to try to facilitate experiences that allow [the campers] to find their voices. We believe each child has a voice, and our roles are to help each child to find it. In their personal letters we encourage them to write what they feel is in their hearts. That's the guiding philosophy of the camp."

Explaining the connection of her yoga center to Jewish thought, Siegel said, "I wanted to give the center a Hebrew name. Nesheemah means breath, and we talk with the children about the connection between breath and soul, neshama. God breathed into man's nostrils to create his soul, so our soul is the breath of God. In yoga, breath is a very crucial part."

Siegel has done postgraduate work in moral education at Harvard University and studied developmental psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University. She has a certificate from YogaKids, a teacher training program. In addition to the summer camp, Nesheemah offers year-round programs for children and adults in guided imagery and relaxation, family yoga and pilates.

 
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