From Madison to Gan Israel: A Journey of Faith and Discovery

A mother who was deeply touched by the changes her children experienced as a result of their stay at CKids Gan Israel sleepaway camp in Madison shares her journey.

As summer set in on the Wisconsin prairies, plans were being cooked up for a second summer at CKids Gan Israel Wisconsin. The day camp at Chabad Lubavitch of Wisconsin has been in continuous operation for over 40 years under the auspices of its founder, Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin. Due to a brilliant flash of inspiration, it is now also a sleepaway camp.

Last year, Rabbi Avremi and Shaindy Schapiro, the camp’s directors since 2006, felt the uniquely immersive impact of a sleepaway camp was sorely missing. The Schapiro’s sprang into action, launching CKids Gan Israel Wisconsin to great acclaim.

As summer approached this year, Madison native Danielle Rosales initially had apprehensions about sending her children, Ethan, Mira, and Avi, to their first-ever sleepaway camp experience. After years of attending day camp, the shift to overnight camping was a leap into the unknown.

“My children had never been to sleepaway camp before, and honestly, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like it and want to come home,” Danielle admitted.

Local Madison shluchim Rabbi Avremel and Mushkie Matusof encouraged Rosales to speak with Rabbi Shapiro, who patiently addressed and alleviated her concerns. With support and encouragement, they eventually gave her the confidence to consider the option. Overcoming her skepticism, she pushed ahead and sent her children to the camp.  

As camp came to a close and the Rosales children returned home, they were on a high.

“I was not expecting this,” Danielle remarked. “I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my ten-year-old son had taken the step of committing to keeping kosher, as well as reciting daily prayers. He said that camp made him feel closer to his soul, and he’s counting the days until he can go back next year. My daughters returned enthusiastically as well; they’ve been singing the songs they’ve learned ever since they came home. I was particularly pleased to hear that, while in camp, my daughter Mira didn’t even miss her phone.”

One of the unique elements of the experience is the connections that campers develop with their counselors. The staff are sensational, doing their best to make the campers feel loved. Mira was deeply touched when her counselor reached out and called after camp; they look forward to seeing each other again.

“My daughters still talk of their experiences in camp, as well as how they wish to live more connected and Jewish lives,” Danielle says.

The story of the Rosales family is a testament to the vision and dedication of Rabbi Avremi Shapiro and Rebbetzin Shaindy, who took the vision of a Jewish overnight camp in the Midwest and made it a reality.

“Every Jewish child deserves to experience the joy, history, and living legacy of their heritage. This is not merely an overnight camp; it’s a journey of self-discovery, a journey into the heart of Jewish identity,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice-Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch and Chairman of CKids.

Beginning with just 45 campers last year, CKids Gan Israel Wisconsin has grown exponentially. The camp has now blossomed into a vibrant community of over 70 campers hailing from ten states. They were aided by a dedicated staff of 30, helmed by the visionary leadership of the Director of CKids HQ, Rabbi Zalmy Lowenthal.

The camp is currently hosting a fundraiser in an effort to expand the horizons of this project.  The potential of this program is truly inspiring; children can influence their parents, who in turn will impact their respective communities. Ensuring the future of our nation is undoubtedly a worthy cause.

To help create meaningful summer experiences for Jewish families across the Midwest consider donating to

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