Camp offers northerners respite from shelters

Children and their mothers from communities in the North have gone to summer camp to escape from the constant danger in their towns. Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, known as the Disco Rabbi, started the 10-day camp, initially for children to help lessen their trauma and get them out of the bomb shelters. "He talked to psychiatrists and psychologists," said Rabbi Ben-Zion Sobel, assistant to Grossman. "They said, 'First, the danger is very real, very serious and something should be done and second, it's [camp] a great idea." Although the camp was only supposed to last 10 days, it has continued beyond that. Grossman has received a 10-day extension and plans to run the camps until the war ends. While it began with 1,500 children in four locations, currently there are around 5,000 people participating in nine locations in the middle of the country like Nehalim, Petah Tikva, Even Shmuel and Neveh Hertzog in Ashdod. When the war started, Grossman traveled to the different bomb shelters at the border and throughout the North. The children had become very ill since they were so frightened, he said. Now, the children were happy. "They are so happy, you can't believe it," said Grossman. "They say, 'You saved us.' To give you an example, when the children first arrived, they came over and said: 'Rabbi, bless us so we won't die.' Now they forget about the problems. "To see the children so happy...It gives them life," he said. The children are staying on the campuses of schools with dormitories that are currently closed for summer vacation. To help plan the children's activities and programs, counselors from different organizations have to come to help. A large portion of the counselors are graduates of Grossman's Midgal Ohr program, which helps young children from disadvantaged families. Activities include arts and crafts, sports, swimming, hikes, educational programs and different types of entertainment. The children have also visited zoos and amusement parks. The cost of running the camp - including food, housing, activities, transportation and fees -is $150,000 a day, according to Grossman. The Jewish Agency has agreed to help cover a portion of the costs, but Grossman needs more to keep the camps functioning. Aside from his work with the camps, Grossman continues to visit bomb shelters in the North, bringing with him different forms of entertainment to help cheer those inside. The mothers who have come with their children reflect a mixture of happiness and worry, since many have left their husbands home and have other problems in mind. "The mothers don't stop thanking me," he said. "On the one hand, they are upset because their husbands are still there [in the North], and they have problems with money and clothes. On the other hand, they stop, thank me and say: What would we do without you?" Those wishing to donate or help can call the camp's Jerusalem office at 02-537-4337 and ask for Rabbi Ben-Zion or Rabbi Fogel.