By Regan Treewater-Lipes
(AJNews) – Camp Gan Izzy has been a staple of the Edmonton Jewish community for decades! It remains a key resource for families seeking to enrich their children’s Jewish identities through fun, friendship, and lasting memories. The majority of kids who grew up in Edmonton, or anywhere with Chabad youth programming, will have passed through Camp Gan Izzy at some point, whether it be yearly enrollment or a precious summer to be cherished. This year camp has received a bit of a makeover, and Jewish families should know that Chabad Lubavitch of Edmonton has not missed a beat in providing exceptional community outreach.
“We knew that camp would be happening, and yes, we had to get everything prepared in less than three weeks, but we’ve made it work and exceeded our own expectations,” commented Rebbetzin Rifka Drelich who is the director, coordinator, and hands-on planner for all things camp this year.
“We originally anticipated we would have around ten children in camp this year, but with a bit of variation from week to week, we have somewhere around thirty registered,” the Rebbetzin elaborated excitedly. “We also have a number of CITs (Counselors in Training) who lend a hand with the younger kids and act as mentors. Initially I had one family interested in signing their child up as a CIT, but before I knew it, fourteen families were interested.”
This year Camp Gan Izzy is being held in the main gathering space at the Chabad House, and regular service attendees would be surprised to see the space so transformed. The atmosphere is electric with a backdrop of posted camp activities and schedules and a soundtrack of laughing and jubilant exertion. When campers are at the Chabad House they sit around nicely organized tables armed with a plethora of art supplies and creativity.
“We value insourcing as opposed to outsourcing,” said the Rebbetzin. “I always start by asking people where their interests lie, and we find a place for them to put their talents to work. If somebody has a passion for art then they can facilitate the painting activities, you see.” This year a fourteen-year-old member of the community has donated his time to running a basketball program for the campers, and another performs weekly magic shows to the delight of all in attendance.
Several times a week a big yellow bus is loaded up with bouncing campers bound for exciting field trips: the Edmonton Valley Zoo, the trampoline park, indoor playgrounds, Galaxyland, and more! The Rebbetzin has strived for continuity for the children and families that look forward to attending Camp Gan Izzy each year, and the activity line-up will not disappoint.
“Look,” said the Rebbetzin gesturing to a brightly decorated table with the remnants of a clearly successful artistic endeavor. “Our girls just had a beauty salon. The older girls gave manicures to the younger ones.” Indeed, upon further inspection, all of the girls’ nails were adorned with carefully applied polish and even masterfully created designs. But even brighter than the fluorescent colors on their nails were all their smiles.
Camp is overseen by a team of staff members and volunteers who take care of everything from daily kosher food preparation, to guiding children through davening. “They may not realize right away that they are learning because we introduce concept through games and activities, but it is there. We teach the Hebrew alphabet, the kids learn bruchot, and it’s all integrated with fun and friendship. The other afternoon all the children lined up for freezies, and all of them were able to recite the correct brucha!” added the Rebbetzin joyfully.
It has been more than twenty years since Rebbetzin Drelich has held the reins of Camp Gan Izzy, but she has stepped back into the role gracefully and with renewed energy. Once camp has wrapped up for the Summer of 2023, the Rebbetzin will turn her attention to CKids and CTeens programming for the year. “It may look a bit different, but this an important source of Jewish community building, and we have to maintain the momentum.”
Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.