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By Chabad Children’s Network

More than 150 Chabad day camps are open for business this summer, “covid-style,” bringing the joy and impact of Jewish summer camp to thousands of children. This remarkable feat was achieved with the creation of “CKids Out of the Box,” an innovative Jewish camp program developed by the Chabad Children’s Network that is suitable for use at every level of pandemic regulation.

For the past ten years, Chabad Children’s Network (CKids) has produced engaging and interactive year-round programs to support Jewish youth communities worldwide, including Hebrew Schools, After-Schools, Kids’ Clubs, Shabbat programs, the annual JewQ Ultimate Torah Championship, and Summer Camps.

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“When families were forced to grapple with the prospect of a camp-free summer, we were determined to find a solution,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of CKids’ parent organization Merkos 302. “We have seen firsthand how powerfully indelible the summer camp experience is in a child’s Jewish development through adulthood, and there was no question in our minds that we must ensure children have a safe way to access the pivotal camp experience this summer.”

CKids “Out of the Box” empowers camp directors worldwide with the complete array of planning tools, resources and materials, and staff training needed to run a fun and meaningful camp while complying with their local pandemic regulations, including socially-distancing camps and those fully online.

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The seven-week camp schedule is packed with daily activities, games, projects, and downloadable resources. A ‘Take Action’ video series of daily Torah lessons brings children the excitement and curiosity of exploring Jewish teachings and practices in an interactive and engaging format. A bespoke ‘Build Your Talent’ virtual series gives kids a chance to explore the worlds of martial arts, zumba, contemporary dance and more. Creative ‘Kosher Kitchen’ classes take kids on culinary adventures, while hilarity ensues at the comically named ‘Shtick University’ that teaches campers sleight-of-hand and illusion antics. Ventriloquists, illusionists, and jugglers all perform custom acts filmed for the campers, adding to the fun and excitement of the CKids camp experience.

“Our goal is to ensure that every child in every Jewish community around the world has access to a happy, safe, and Jewish camp experience,” said CKids director Rabbi Zalmy Loewenthal.

Loewenthal and his team work directly with each camp director to customize the program to fit the needs of their locale. For those leading strictly virtual day camps, special emphasis has gone into creating activities that are interactive and get kids moving to avoid screen fatigue. Those leading in-person camps with social distancing regulations have been provided with detailed instructions for creating individual camp kits so that every child has personal supplies for every activity. Even camps in states with looser regulations are unable to rely on the usual camp fare of off-site trips and excursions, so CKids lined up world class children’s entertainers for exclusive online performances.

Whatever their set-up, Out-Of-The-Box CGI helps directors provide the enriching and joyfully Jewish experience parents have come to expect from Chabad camps.

Understanding that the uniqueness of this summer extends beyond special programming, CKids developed a live training program for camp directors and counselors, with guidance for providing campers with the best possible experience within the unique health and safety challenges the coronavirus pandemic presents. And as the camper-counselor bond is a central part of any camp’s impact, CKids Out of the Box includes creative ways for campers and counselors to bond in-person even while remaining socially distant.

And camp directors say it is working. “We signed up for the CKids Out-of-the-Box program for both our On-Site and Virtual Camp Programs,” say Rabbi Baruch and Chana Hecht, directors of Chabad of Brentwood, California. “Each week and day is filled with amazingly creative, fun, and inspiring activities and are packed with meaningful Jewish content. This has been such a tremendous help and support.”

This is not the first time in recent months that CKids has produced extraordinary results with only a short time to plan. When school systems closed in March, CKids transformed their network of more than 300 Hebrew Schools into a Virtual Hebrew School within 48 hours, ensuring that 40,000 kids in 26 countries didn’t miss a single day of their Jewish education. For ten weeks children joined weekly interactive classes, complete with competitions, sing-alongs, games, and parent involvement. Tens of thousands of children joined CKids’ ‘World’s Biggest Model Seder,’ and an equal number logged on to march virtually in ‘The Biggest Parade Ever’ in celebration of Lag B’Omer.

CKids’ next big programs will be rolled out in Elul, including brand new approaches for Hebrew School and High Holiday programming during the pandemic. With a creative, experienced, and inspired team of educators and Jewish leaders, an expansive network of grassroots communities, and a continuous flow of communication and support between the two, CKids is positioned to continue creating powerful impact in the world of Jewish youth.

Chabad Children’s Network (CKids) is a division of Merkos 302.

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