Summer Camp

For parents who crave structure in summer for footloose children, space is still available at a handful of local Jewish day camps for elementary- and middle school-aged youth. Themed, half-day preschool camps at synagogues, though, are filling fast.

New this summer is a camp in Rancho Santa Margarita that is already proving popular. Morasha Jewish Day School will serve as a second site for Silver Gan Israel, the county’s largest Jewish day camp, which is organized and operated by Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy.

By mid-May, 80 children had enrolled for portions of four two-week sessions, June 24-Aug. 16. “I’m blown away,” says Rabbi Yossi Mentz, the camp director and Hebrew Academy teacher. “For a first year, that’s amazing.” About 450 children are expected daily in Huntington Beach.

Above-ground pools are to be installed at Morasha to supplement a camp itinerary that includes sports, drama, art, computers, “mad” science, kick boxing, twice-weekly field trips and Friday Shabbat parties. Older youth can participate in overnight camping trips to Big Bear and Castaic Lake.

Silver Gan Israel costs $320 per session. About $20,000 in partial scholarships were awarded to 100 children last year, Mentz says. In addition, the camp offers $10-per-day bus transportation from locations around the county.

A camp open-house is scheduled June 2 at Morasha and June 9 at Huntington Beach.

Camp Director Rabbi Heidi Cohen says about 60 campers, kindergarten through ninth grade, are expected in each of eight weekly sessions offered at Santa Ana’s Camp Sholom, located at Temple Beth Sholom. Two days are spent on theater, sports and arts, with afternoons at a pool; Tuesdays at the beach; Thursdays on a field trip or a mitzvah project; and Fridays on shabbat activities, including a really loud song session. “That’s a great way to end the week,” says Cohen, who accompanies singers on guitar. Older kids, who spend a week as “counselors in training” or CITs, assist younger kids on projects and games.

Cohen, who leads a circle of prayer, songs and announcements both morning and afternoon, also joins campers for rock-climbing, laser tag and jumps off a high dive. “I think it’s important for kids to see a rabbi in this role,” she says. “I want my kids to know I’m approachable.”

Also planned is an overnight at a park in Yorba Linda. A camp mitzvah project will include selecting, cooking and packaging meals for Ronald McDonald House, where parents stay while their children are at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

Camp Sholom costs $200 per week.

About 75 school-age children are expected at each of four two-week sessions at Camp Haverim, the Jewish Community Center camp in its third year at Irvine’s Tarbut v’Torah campus. Each week’s activities take a theme such as Israel, carnival and Olympics, says Sari Poremba, the camp director.

Haverim also offers specialty camps in theater, music, amusement park touring and sports, a new offering. On July 17-19, campers will stage a production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Susanne Levitt, a UC Irvine instructor.

CIT campers receive $100 for their efforts. Most sessions cost $410 per week. The camp holds several fundraisers throughout the summer, last year raising $7,000 towards scholarships for 15 youth.

The smallest day camp is at Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, held July 8-Aug. 9. Mondays and Fridays are spent onsite on sports, mitzvah projects, Israeli dancing and cooking, says Barbara Sherman, the camp director. Successive days are spent at the beach, touring, poolside or at an amusement park.

The cost is $175 per week.

Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El canceled a planned half-day camp for elementary-aged youth for lack of interest, says Linda Kirsch, education director. But the synagogue is holding half-day camps for children 2 to kindergarten age around themes such as reptiles, farms and Judaica, says Terry Fierle, early childhood director.

Little ones will enjoy similar themes at separate half-day preschool camps at Chabad of Laguna Jewish Center in Laguna Beach and the JCC in Costa Mesa. Preschool camps are filled at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm and Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat.

Reviving a Public School

Four years ago, when Robyn Ritter Simon’s eldest son was ready to start kindergarten, she looked at her local public school and found it lacking. It was not that Canfield Elementary School fell short academically. The Simons live in a West Los Angeles neighborhood that is heavily Jewish and her son would have been one of the few white children — and perhaps the only Jewish child — in his class.

Simon, who grew up in West Los Angeles and met her husband at Emerson Junior High School, was a strong believer in the public school experience. So she won permission to shlep Brandon to Westwood Charter Elementary, a school she regards as a model of enlightened diversity. Still, she continued to look longingly at the school down the street, wishing she could bring to Canfield some of the strong neighborhood support that made Westwood Charter so attractive.

In 1996, while pushing her twins in their stroller, Simon met three other mothers who shared her hopes for Canfield. Though their children were still toddlers, they began to strategize, working closely with principal Sylvia Rogers to address Canfield’s needs. Each of the four found her own area of expertise. Denise Neumann, a former interior designer, dug gardens, organized campus beautification days, and ultimately became president of the Friends of Canfield booster club. Nicole Gorak, a photographer with a background in public relations, spread the word to other parents and owners of local businesses. Teresa Grossman, who works as a bookkeeper for actors and musicians, learned the art of grant writing and helped Canfield win funds for new playground equipment. Simon, a journalist who once hosted a public affairs television show, lobbied Los Angeles Unified School District bureaucrats on Canfield’s behalf.