Abracadabra: Winter Camp

Cheering erupted in the gym as Ava made another basket. “Ava, you can shoot! You go, girl,” a volunteer called out to her. In the far corner, a trio of volunteers with rackets in their hands helped a participant keep the ball afloat. And from just beyond the doors, Louis and his buddy, Jose, sat observing the goings on, far enough away to avoid overstimulation.

Just when the outside world slows down, things heat up at LifeTown. In the week leading up to the end of the year, camp was in full swing, with each day offering its own basket of activities, from music to basketball to dot art. While plenty of adult volunteers pitched in, the camp was staffed largely by students from Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, with each grade assigned a different day. “We really appreciate being able to do chesed where we are really needed,” said CM Gerson, a Kushner teacher and director of student activities.

On Thursday afternoon, each group had a chance to enjoy a Shabbat ice cream party, with candle lighting, kiddush, and of course, ice cream and sprinkles. The event, a clear highlight, was not to be missed as several in the 21+ group dropped what they were doing and rushed over so they wouldn’t miss anything. “We’re so glad you didn’t miss the Shabbat party!” a volunteer called out, as Devorah and Justin both came in and their friends clapped. Afterwards, Dina gave the Shabbat party a thumbs up.

Nearby at the movie theater concession stand, Joey, a RKYHS volunteer, kept his friends and the participants full of popcorn and Twizzlers. Sitting on a bench in the LifeTown Shoppes toward the end of the day, Kushner volunteers Moussia and Etana reflected on their experience. “The kids are so sweet,” said Moussia. “School made us come but honestly, this was such a good opportunity. I’m happy we had to come. I’m exhausted, but it’s been worth it!” Etana added, “It’s nice to have a chance to help kids who really needed us to volunteer.”

“Walking around LifeTown during camp was so inspiring,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, CEO of Friendship Circle. “The comfort and love that the students exhibited towards the children was exceptional. It is clear that empathy and chesed is inculcated into the very fabric of the RKYHS students.”

Back in the gym, Etan was playing basketball but took a break to talk about how much fun he’d been having through the week, especially cooking, he said. On this day, the project was challah, and the scent of fresh dough wafted through the areas just beyond the kitchen. Inside, Chloe Cordasco was helping Joel knead challah. He took joy in touching and smelling the dough, asking when it would be time to eat the challah.

The day culminated in a magic show for everyone together, and participants oohed and aahed as colors suddenly appeared in a book and then disappeared just as quickly, and fire roared out of a book about dragons. And then, abracadabra, another winter camp session came to a close.

“I always walk away from here with a smile,” said adult volunteer Carol Jacobstein. “I wish the rest of the world were like this.”

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