Two years after they moved to Budapest, Hungary, to launch the local branch of CKids, shluchim Rabbi Levi and Chaya Greenberg ushered in a new ear of immersive Jewish experiences for local youth with the launch of CKids Gan Israel Hungary.
The sandy shores of Lake Balaton came to life this summer with the joyous sound of young voices chanting traditional Jewish songs. The popular vacation spot was infused with new purpose as the latest CKids Gan Israel network addition opened its doors for its inaugural season. The camp’s warm, familial environment was filled with the network’s trademark blend of learning, fun, and Jewish pride. More than just an overnight camp, CKids Gan Israel Hungary established a fresh sense of connection and inspiration for the children, ensuring the ripple effects will be felt long after the summer.
“When we moved to Budapest two years ago, we got very involved in the youth programs here; eventually, we were tasked with leading CKids Hungary, the largest Jewish youth organization in the country,” said Mrs. Chaya Greenberg of Chabad of Budapest, who directed the camp together with her husband, Rabbi Levi Greenberg. The remarkable success of the Greenbergs’ youth programs, including a Hebrew School, kids club, birthday club, holiday programs, shabbatons, and more, quickly earned them a stellar reputation among Jewish families in the community.
“When we saw how many families were looking for overnight camps for their kids to attend, we realized there was a tremendous need here,” said Mrs. Greenberg. “If we could open a fun, exciting camp that includes all the different types of activities that the parents are looking for—with activities like boating, bowling, camel riding, horseback riding, indoor rock climbing, and blueberry picking—then we could give these kids a full-on experience of what it means to live as a Jew.”
And how correct they were. As one grateful parent put it: “I am amazed by how much energy, creativity, and love was put into this camp! Every night, my child calls, and she’s so happy to tell me all about the day’s excitement!”
“If the camp was at this level in its first year, I can only wonder what we can expect next year to bring!”
The growing network of CKids Gan Israel overnight camps, including locations in Florida, Wisconsin, and Denmark, perfectly matched the needs of the young families of the Hungarian Jewish community.
“CKids Gan Israel specifically caters to the Hebrew School kid. These children are involved in the Chabad House community and are ready for the next step in their Jewish journey,” said Rabbi Zalmy Loewenthal, Director of CKids International at Merkos 302. “Being in an immersive environment of authentic Yiddishkeit, while at the same time having fun with professional recreation and exciting activities, is a huge boost for the campers’ entire families in living a more engaged and proud Jewish life.”
Living a proud Jewish life is no simple thing in Hungary, where the specter of World War II still casts a long shadow.
“Many Jews in Hungary are apprehensive about publicizing that they’re Jewish,” said Mrs. Greenberg. “A number of these families have kept their Judaism a secret for decades; they still suffer from lingering generational trauma from the War. We’re combatting deep-rooted fear by developing in these children deep-rooted Jewish pride.”
The camp staff included a uniquely qualified team to help encourage local Hungarians’ to embrace their Jewish identities – a group of local Hungarian counselors who are themselves graduates of the Chabad Hebrew School and youth system.
“There was one girl who strongly wanted to travel this summer, planning to work at a Jewish camp abroad,” said Mrs. Greenberg, “but as soon as word got out that we were making a camp, she said there was nowhere else she’d rather be than giving back to the community that she gained so much from.”
One of the unique elements of the Hungary camp was that it simultaneously held separate boys and girls divisions. Being able to send all of their children to camp at the same time opened the door for even more parents to register their kids.
Another remarkable aspect of the camp is the wide-ranging background of its campers and its commitment to providing an environment of learning and growth for each one. The immersive CKids learning experience, titled ‘Be An Explorer,’ had the kids learn about Jewish themes innovatively.
The Torah concepts learned daily during study time—from the engaging curricula—came to life in the activities. For example, aside from learning about the mitzvah, the boys had a blast decorating their Tie-dye Tzitzis when Tzitzit Day came around.
“The Jewish background of these children covers the full spectrum of Jewish observance,” Mrs. Greenberg explained. “Some of our campers go to Hungarian public schools and don’t know much about Judaism, while others go to the Chabad-run school here but aren’t necessarily observant at home. Some campers come from traditional Israeli families, others barely even knew they were Jewish, and then we have campers who wear a yarmulka every day.”
Regardless of their background, the camp was a nonjudgemental space for growth. Many parents reported their children returning from camp on fire about their heritage. Quite a few campers, even when back home, made sure to mark Shabbat with their families. One parent quipped: “With our children teaching us all the games and songs they learned in camp, it was past midnight by the time we finished our Shabbat dinner.”
“What makes our camp unique is that we’re geared towards every type of Jewish child,” is how Rabbi Greenberg puts it. “For example, we have different groups for davening and learning, based on their level of Jewish knowledge, so that every child can feel comfortable and learn and gain at their level. And throughout the day, they interact, learn, and gain from each other. It’s a beautiful mix of all different types of children coming together, knowing they all have something in common, and what’s in common is that they’re Jewish. No matter their background, affiliation, or level of observance, they all have a place where they belong in our camp.”
“CKids Gan Israel gives all Jewish children the opportunity to learn about who they are, know their purpose in the world, and be proud that they’re Jewish,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302. “We want them to realize that being Jewish is something to cherish, so they’ll be ready to share the light of Torah with others. Every Jewish child deserves to know what it truly means to be a Jew.