On a recent summer afternoon, 4- and 5-year-old campers were rolling plastic rings on the field at Camp Gan Israel in Randolph under the direction of coach Michal Robinson, while their older peers were learning Krav Maga from Wendy Bergstrand. When this visitor approached, the younger campers distractedly ventured over and talked about the day’s activities.
“I like the dinosaur treasure hunt,” Maya said. “I found golden eggs,” Oren said, then clarified: “It isn’t real. It’s pretend!” Ava likes playtime, especially playing with Play-Doh. “I like to make a snowman!” Emily proudly declared, “I can swim by myself!” and Brielle pointed to the empty spot in her mouth where a tooth formerly resided. “You can see a new tooth growing underneath!”
Camp Gan Izzy, as it is known, is a spinoff of Gan Israel in Morristown, which is housed on the campus at the Rabbinical College of America (RCA). The second Gan Izzy expanded to the Gottesman RTW Academy campus in Randolph last year.
Both camps are part of a network of Gan Israel day camps in 40 countries, originally established in 1956, all affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch. The camp at the Morristown location has been around every summer since the 1970s, except for 2014, when it closed due to budgetary constraints.
Now in its second year in the new location, Gan Izzy in Randolph has almost doubled in attendance from last year, from 33 campers, ages 2-10, to 65 campers.
“We had reached capacity in the Morristown space,” said Rabbi Mendel Dubov, director of both Morris County camps.
Expanding to a second location offered an opportunity to create two distinct personalities for the camps, explained Dubov. Morristown would appeal to a more religious crowd, with boys and girls in separate locations; while Randolph would accommodate those looking for a less rigid approach to religion.
“As Chabad, we do cater to everyone,” said Dubov. He acknowledged that the Morristown location required “slightly too much” of a leap, from a religious perspective —situated on the campus of the RCA — for some of their clientele. Similarly, some families might not feel comfortable in Randolph, where boys and girls are together, and where, on this day, some of the boys wore kippot or baseball hats but others did not.
Avra Rubin of West Orange has two sons, ages 8 and 6, attending Gan Izzy in Randolph. “I like that the boys are not completely separated from the girls on the Randolph campus,” she said. “That’s more of what I want for my kids.”
A member of the Orthodox Ahawas Achim Bnai Jacob and David (AABJ&D), her sons are among the two biggest feeder groups of Randolph campers: members of AABJ&D and members of Chabad in Sussex County, where Dubov is the shaliach.
So far, Rubin, who considered Orthodox and secular day camps for her sons, is thrilled. She chose Gan Izzy in Randolph not only for its price point, lower than other Jewish day camps, but also because “I felt it was smaller and more warm and nurturing” than some of the large camps. Seven weeks at the Randolph Gan Izzy costs $2150-2350 while the Morristown location is $1700.
As the kids outside continued their activities on the field, inside the school building other groups of campers were engaged in arts and crafts and baking (“Chocolate and vanilla cake! Yummy!” a few shouted as this visitor walked by) while the youngest campers napped.
And during a treasure hunt, Kiddie camp director Nancy Peled Wolf, also the director of the Early Childhood and the mechina program during the school year at Gottesman RTW, rushed by in a pirate hat, mock sword in hand. As she passed she declared, in her best pirate voice, “I’m on my way to the treasure hunt!”