Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

No victims here


Daniel Mandell

Campers at Camp Koby enjoy a bubble-making workshop recently at their home base in Kibbutz Yehiam.

Speaking through her tears it was not clear whether Eliana, 15, was crying tears of sadness because of her loss, or tears of joy because she was in a place where she could express herself, and cry openly. "Before coming to Camp Koby I was so broken. This was my first sleep away camp and on the first day I couldn't eat. But I felt an immediate connection. I have met so many amazing people. There's so much effort put in to help us. It gives energy and strength to continue with everyday life." She also learned to be happy again, something nobody takes for granted, "I learned to laugh again, when to talk, to listen, to laugh and when to cry."

As Israel observes a national day of mourning for 23,477 victims of war and terror, nobody takes for granted, either, that bereaved children like Eliana have a place where they can share their grief openly among other bereaved children who understand one another's loss intuitively.

During the recent Passover vacation, the festival during which the Jewish people celebrate our liberation from Egypt thousands of years ago, 250 bereaved children experienced another kind of liberation on the shores of the Red Sea as part of Camp Koby, a project of the Koby Mandell Foundation (KMF), Israel's preeminent organization responsible for helping heal the deep invisible wounds of families of terror victims and other tragedies. Along with the Passover Camp, Camp Koby runs programs in which several hundred bereaved children participate throughout the year.

The Koby Mandell Foundation has been running camps for bereaved children since 2002. It was established by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell following the murder of their 13-year-old son Koby, who was stoned to death along with his friend Yosef Ish-Ran by Palestinian terrorists in May 2001.

Rabbi Mandell shared his reflective gratitude, "We are profoundly grateful to all our donors who made the Passover Camp possible this year, as well as all our programs year round. They should be truly proud of the meaningful and lasting impact, and how the therapeutic programs of Camp Koby are an invaluable source of strength to heal our campers' grief."

This year, the need for the Camp Koby Passover camp was especially great, as was its impact. With Israelis experiencing several months of terror that's reported in the news almost daily, the Passover Camp was oversubscribed by 20% more than was budgeted for. This was due to the increased number of bereaved children, and the overall feelings of insecurity of past campers who've experienced renewed PTSD-like trauma.

"Thanks to two additional anonymous donations the week before Camp, we were able to add a sixth bus, enabling all the kids who wanted to attend to do so. This summer we expect a similar if not greater demand for Camp Koby, and plans and funding are being secured so we are able to accommodate everyone," Mandell added. "This is especially important, not just this year but in general, as there are numerous programs for bereaved adults, but children are often left out of the healing process. Camp Koby fills this niche."

Camp Koby programs have three components: they are fun, they include social integration, and they are therapeutic. Therapists work with the campers through art, music, and drama. They help the kids express themselves and heal, and therapies are customized to the different ages and backgrounds of the campers.

The statistics are impressive and results are obvious, especially when observing the kids and interaction between them and the all-volunteer counselors. But in speaking to campers directly, one is impacted emotionally as to how critical Camp Koby is.

When Eden was six, she lost her brother while serving in the army. Shortly afterward, her father died as well. "Before I came to Camp Koby I'd sit at home alone. Our counselors are always there for us, not only during camp. One time I called my counselor at 3:00AM. Camp Koby helps us to survive."

Tzvi, 26, is a camper who became a counselor. He and his brother were shot in the same terror attack as children, and soon after another brother was stabbed, and a sister died. What keeps him coming back to Camp Koby is, "It's not just about the fun. I've met people like me and make friends with people who understand my pain and make me feel normal. Camp Koby gives me the power to deal with the pain."

For most, a recurring theme is that Camp Koby a family. Liam, 9, from Jerusalem noted, "Here we each share one special thing because someone in our family died, so that makes us like one big family."

Even if all the terror and war were to stop, there would still be a need to provide support for children bereaved of other tragedies. Smiling through her braces, Yona, 12, who lost a parent to cancer shared, "My friends at home can't understand my pain. Camp Koby is like my family. Here we are all the same and can smile. Now I am a stronger person."

The Koby Mandell Foundation has earned its reputation of being Israel's leading organization helping children cope with bereavement from terror and other tragedies. By helping to heal the invisible scars, Camp Koby campers are made stronger, making all of Israel stronger.

This year, because of the increased need, the KMF has launched a crowd funding campaign to provide scholarships to meet the demand for Camp Koby's summer camp. Thanks to matching gifts, every donation is doubled. No amount is too small, or too big. Every donation means the world to these children. $1500 can sponsors one child for the entire Camp Koby summer session. $150 sponsors one child for one day of camp. Because of the matching gift opportunity, every scholarship donated until June 9 will be doubled. Even sponsoring one child for just an hour of camp ($6.25), the impact, the healing, and the comfort provided will be DOUBLED.

As Israel remembers those whose lives were taken, you can join of the most meaningful and impactful ways to bless Israel and comfort the survivors. http://www.causematch.com/campkoby.

Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. He has a three-decade career in nonprofit fundraising and marketing and throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians. He writes regularly on major Christian web sites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He can be reached at FirstPersonIsrael@gmail.com.


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