Over 100 Public School children from across NYC spent their Chol HaMoed this Pesach at the Queens Passover Day Camp, learning about their Jewish heritage while having a fun experience and making new friends.
By Zalmy Engel
The buses pull up, and as the kids begin running out, they are welcomed by their counselors energetically dancing to the music pumping from the boombox speaker. “Good morning, Aiden!” “Hey, Yonatan!” “How’s it going, Sophia?” “Ariella, so nice to see you!”
These are a few of the over 100 children who spent their Chol HaMoed this Pesach at the Queens Passover Day Camp, learning about their Jewish heritage while having a fun experience and making new friends.
As the campers arrive, they sit down to a wholesome breakfast, while they have a chance to warm up their lungs for the day by cheering their bunk’s cheer. Tefillah then follows, with tickets abound, after which the campers split up for their learning session and activities. Nearing midday, lunch is served, after which the children clamber onto the buses once more for their daily field trip. Bowling, bouncing, gaming and laser tagging – you name it, we’ve done it!
By the time the kids are back on the bus for the way back, they’re quite ready for the water and snacks that they receive to refresh them, as they eagerly anticipate their arrival at camp where the daily raffles will take place, concluding the day’s packed schedule. After a fun-filled and exhausting day, the campers meet their parents with smiling faces, ready to wind down and recharge for another day at camp.
Day Camp for Released Time kids is not something new; it’s been happening for decades. What was different this year, however, was the all-new girls division run exclusively by female counselors.
It wasn’t easy to find girls in Crown Heights who were willing to give up their Chol HaMoed, as many had already made plans to go out with family and friends, or just to relax. However, a number of dedicated girls took the plunge, selflessly giving of their precious few days of vacation, and pioneered this first-of-its-kind initiative.
As they quickly found out, they made the right choice. “Camp was totally the highlight of my Pesach!” Rochel enthused. Some wondered why they had never been introduced to this opportunity before. “Why don’t we get to do this every Wednesday?” Leah asked.
It soon became evident that not only did the staff appreciate this change, but the children as well expressed very positive feedback. Many meaningful relationships were formed between the girls and their counselors. As Director Menucha Majeski tells over, “When a camper found out that her counselor wouldn’t be coming that day, she started crying and refused to be placated the entire morning. She was really looking forward to spending time with her.”
Counselors are also continuing the connection beyond camp, by keeping in contact with and video-calling their campers, encouraging them to continue practicing whatever they learned and were inspired to do during the few days they had together.
“What started out as a hopeful experiment turned out to be an unexpectedly wild success, and we’re hoping this year’s camp can serve as a precedent for years to come, whether for Day Camps in the Winter, Spring and Summer, or even for regular Wednesday Hour programs,” organizers said.
Special thanks to: Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht and Sephardic Jewish Congregation of Queens, and to Rabbi Mordy Hecht and Anshe Sholom Chabad JCC, for providing the locations for Camp. Rabbi and Mrs. Shneur and Menucha Majeski, for spearheading and running the girls’ division. Mendel Holtzberg, Zelig Newman and Chaim Piekarski for all the behind-the-scenes and on-site work involved in successfully running camp. All the dedicated staff of both boys’ and girls’ divisions for their devotion, enthusiasm and effort.
Photo credits (boys’ division): Eliyahu Ezagui