Gan Israel Camping Network
The first Chabad-affiliated summer camp was a girls' overnight camp, Camp Emunah in Greenfield Park, New York, U.S. (where it still located), founded in 1953 by Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht. In 1956, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, directed some young men to open a parallel boys' overnight camp under the auspices of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch organization. He chose the name Gan Israel ("Garden of Israel") for this camp, after the founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Camp Gan Israel moved to its current location, Parksville, New York, in 1969.
Rabbi Schneerson also visited both of these camps in 1956 (before the camp season began), 1957 and 1960 (during the camp season). This was highly unusual in itself, as he otherwise almost never left New York City throughout his tenure. Since the early 1990s, the Rebbe's visits have formed an important part of the oral history of Camp Gan Israel in Parksville (and the other camps in the network), and are frequently referred to in song and in print.
Other branches of Gan Israel overnight camps were founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where a model of the Rebbe's synagogue has been situated (1958) (present-day location: Labelle, Quebec); London, UK (c. 1960); Detroit, U.S. (1961) (present-day location: Kalkaska Township, Michigan); Melbourne, Australia (1960s); Florida U.S., (2007); Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2012); and others. In addition, several hundred Gan Israel day camps exist around the world (though some bear other names). The network claims a total enrollment of over 100,000 children.
Over 60% of the children that attend Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps are from unaffiliated Jewish homes. To this end, introductory classes and exciting programs present Judaism in a relaxed, user-friendly manner. In addition, a growing number of Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps are now equipped to aid children with special needs.
Today, Gan Israel offers much more than the traditional swimming and canoeing. Many camps now offer cyber art, wilderness survival, tennis, karate, and mountain biking. Special trips to theme parks, bowling and creative Shabbat overnights complement the spiritual programs that are the hallmark of Chabad-Lubavitch: daily study and prayer, Jewish song and dance, ritual arts and crafts, and a wide variety of activities designed to generate interest and excitement in Jewish history, observance and the performance of good deeds.
• In the summer of 2003, more than 120,000 children attended Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps.
• More than 90% of the 8,500 counselors that staffed Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps in 2003 attended Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps in their youth.
In Montreal the annual 1st session grand trip is to LaRonde