Israeli Camp Children Reap Fruits of Ujc Emergency Campaign

Twenty squirming 6- and 7-year-olds pile into the center of the classroom, listening attentively to their day camp counselor as she explains how to make a recycled newspaper art project.

As they sit cross-legged on the floor, ripping up newspaper that would later be mixed with a clay-like glue and then molded into primary colored art, Ellen Waghelstein plunks herself down amid three giggling girls to help.

Tal, Chen and Rivka end up spending more time teaching Waghelstein the words to a popular Hebrew song.

In turn, she teaches them how to say bug juice, the red-colored juice popular at many American camps.

Waghelstein, from Rockville, Md., along with a busload of United Jewish Communities colleagues, was visiting the community center day camp in Baka, a Jerusalem neighborhood.

The day camp is one of many that has been funded by a $25 million grant from the Israel Emergency Campaign, which was launched by UJC and federations across North America in response to the ongoing terror in Israel.

The campaign has already raised nearly $300 million to offset security, medical, child welfare and other humanitarian needs in Israel.

The funding is being administered by a committee of representatives from the UJC, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

This summer, the $25 million is supporting a three-week countrywide camp program. The camps are seen as a way of providing safe recreational activities for Israeli children.

As part of the Jewish organizational collaborative effort, the JDC, along with Israel’s Education Ministry and the Union of Local Authorities, is administering the day camp programs.

Out of the $25 million, $20 million enabled 230,000 Israeli children from grades one through six to attend camp.

The camps are located in low-income areas that have been particularly vulnerable to terror attacks, including areas in Jerusalem, Afula, Hadera, Netanya and Kfar Saba.

The remaining $5 million is being used for special summer programs for special needs children and youth at risk, and will reach 35,000 youngsters throughout the country.

From the $20 million, $18 million was slated for camps around Israel, while the remaining $2 million was set aside for Jerusalem, as stipulated by the UJA-Federation of New York, which is Jerusalem’s sister city.

For Shula Ohayoun, a single mother of four from Baka with two girls in the day camp, the UJC grant was a lifesaver.

“I don’t know what I would have done this summer,” said Ohayoun, who has two older sons, one of whom will enter the army this fall.

“With the camp, they’re going to the pool, the monkey park, on hikes. These are treats I wouldn’t have been able to afford.”

The day camp, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for most of the children, includes four trips to a local pool, several all-day outings, and the usual routine of sports, arts and crafts and other activities.

At the Baka camp, which is held in a small, local elementary school surrounded by painted cement yards, the children are divided into groups of 20 to 25, with two counselors, explained Amos Lev-Ran, the day camp director.

In addition to the 200,000-plus children enrolled in the camps, another 12,000 Israeli youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are involved in the day camps as staff and counselors.

While Baka is a mostly middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood with families that can well afford day camp, there are pockets of lower-income families in the community, said Yehiel Levy, the director of the local community center.

A significant number of the campers come from Givat Hamatos, a rundown area close to Baka that is home to many poor Ethiopian and Russian immigrants.

There are usually 70 to 80 children enrolled in the Baka day camp each summer, with another 50 pre-schoolers in the nearby day care program. This year, there are 170 kids in the day camp, and 70 children in the nearby day care center.

“The money you gave us gives us the opportunity to bring kids to camp,” Levy told the visiting UJC delegation. “And for that, we thank you.”

Given the large sums of tax-exempt donations being made, the organizations are working to make sure that the money is being put to work quickly and efficiently.

“The money you spend on summer camps goes to the right people at the right time,” Nachman Shai, director general of UJC Israel, told the group of UJC leaders.

An additional $5 million has been raised by the emergency campaign for the Fund to Aid Victims of Terror.

More than $1.5 million was distributed by the fund over the last four months to 155 terror victims and their families.

Whenever the State of Israel can’t cover certain expenses or needs, the fund, which is administered by the Jewish Agency, steps in to help out with living expenses, counseling, medical needs and armored vehicles.

Each week, a committee allocates $300,000 to families and family members of terror victims, officials said.

Sitting in a classroom at Kiryat Moriah, an all-purpose educational campus in Jerusalem, the mission participants heard from Shoshana Gottlieb, 49, who was shot while riding home from work last February.

Now paralyzed from the neck down, Gottlieb has returned to work, but was having problems reaching her third-floor apartment whenever the elevator wasn’t working.

A grant helped purchase a three-wheel device that takes her wheelchair up the stairs to her apartment. For Eitan Edry, 22, whose father, Yehuda, an intelligence officer, was shot in the line of duty, the fund helped his mother refinance the mortgage on the new home that his father had built for the family of six children.

“The needs are substantial,” said Ethan Budin, chairman of the Young Leadership of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

“This situation speaks to the community. We need to continue to support Israel.”

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