For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, young Jewish campers from Chabad day camps in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens will gather Wednesday as part of a Unity Day celebration in Great Neck.
More than 1,000 second- to sixth-graders from Camp Gan Israel, the largest network of camps on Long Island, will travel to the sprawling multi-acre home of the Chabad of Great Neck. There they'll attend a carnival, visit a petting zoo and even watch a BMX bike show, officials said. The event is organized by Chabad of Long Island, whose 50 branches across Long Island serve the local Jewish population.
"Exactly what they've missed is a sense of community," the director of Camp Gan Great Neck, Rabbi Zalman Baumgarten, said of children during the pandemic. "Even to just be with children from the other camps, other Jewish kids, to have a sense of normality. It's enjoyment, to see other kids, to see each other screaming … to have kids get together, to show some unity, some togetherness … It will be a nice day together."
Especially important, organizers said, is that the gathering comes in the middle of a period of mourning known as "The Nine Days" or "The Nine Days of Av" — Av being the month on the Jewish calendar, "The Nine Days" observed this year from July 28-Aug. 6.
That observance is "in recognition of the many tragedies and calamities" that have befallen the Jewish people, according to the Talmud — events that date to the ancient destruction of temples by Babylonians and Romans. This year, it serves as a prelude to a once-in-seven-years observance in Judaism known as Year of Hakhel — or, Gathering.
The director of Chabad of Long Island, Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, said in a statement: “As we begin to come to grips with the detrimental effects that the pandemic has had on education, it’s so important for children to be able to strengthen their social bonds and to gather once more as a community. And amid the ongoing concerns of bigotry and antisemitism both locally and around the world, this event will serve to double down on Jewish pride.”
The Chabad hosts camps in Cedarhurst, Dix Hills, East Hampton, Great Neck, Melville, Merrick, Port Washington, Roslyn, Southampton, Stony Brook and Queens, with campers ranging in age from toddlers (2 years old) to teens.
"Some of these kids have never known what's it like, because of COVID, to attend a large sporting event, a celebration in a park, to go to a concert, to go to a carnival," Rabbi Baumgarten said. "This will be a wonderful experience."