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Camp Network Branches out with Program of Basketball and Prayers

It is just another day at the Julian Krinsky Summer Camp at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.

Dozens of teens and pre-teens take a break from their basketball, tennis, golf and creative arts sessions, resting in a conference room, clad in backwards baseball caps, baggy T-shirts and shorts. Some absentmindedly twirl sleek titanium tennis rackets, others fiddle with their $100 basketball shoes.

Then the camp’s namesake asks for some Jewishly inspired messages for a mural they’re about to design to show solidarity with Israeli teens, and many hands shoot up. One kid in a cap with a New Jersey Devils hockey logo says, “Ish Echad, Pa’am Echad, Lev Echad,” or One Person, One Moment, One Heart.

Camp Granada — the subject of Allan Sherman’s 1960s-era comedy song about the quintessential camp experience — this is not. And it’s hardly a typical nonsectarian Krinsky camp — camps in the Krinsky network are known for top-notch sports, business and performing arts programs at college campuses in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Welcome to Yaish Shabbat, Krinsky Camps’ new program designed to meld serious business, sports and performing arts instruction in a world of halachah, or Jewish law.

“We are trying to show kids an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle in a natural setting,” says Rabbi Alan Berkowitz, Yaish Shabbat’s rabbi.

Almost all of the 120 Jewish camps catering to some 75,000 campers nationwide feature sports activities, and some other camps for observant children — such as the Orthodox B’nei Akiva movement’s Camp Moshava in Wisconsin — are bolstering their sports facilities and programs.

But few camps focus as intensely on blending secular and Jewish activities as Yaish Shabbat.

Here kids sleep in dorm rooms, pray daily and spend most of their time on the basketball and tennis court or golf course in intense clinics with top-ranked sports pros. Others work for hours each day with acting coaches and arts instructors, or take trips to Wall Street.

So observant kids who also happen to be serious about worldly pursuits are not forced to make their lives “compartmentalized” as they would in a nondenominational camp, Berkowitz says.

Arielle Vogelstein, 12, of Baltimore, is exactly the kind of camper Yaish Shabbat is designed for. During a basketball practice, she fights intensely under the rim for a loose ball, wins a jump ball and coolly grabs some high-fives from teammates as she chews gum and adjusts her headband.

“Everybody is religious, so I can still play basketball and sleep over and not worry about what I eat,” she says.

Kicked off at Arcadia’s campus this summer, Yaish Shabbat’s three two-week overnight sessions are already packed, with up to 75 kids paying about $1,000 per week for the opportunity to pursue their secular passions while praying, studying a daily Torah portion, keeping kosher and observing Shabbat.

Berkowitz, also the headmaster at New York’s Ramaz Lower School, says the camp is no different than home for most campers, where they “live an integrated Jewish life in a modern world.”

For some time, about 85 percent of his campers have been Jewish, he says, but only in recent years did he find himself making special supermarket runs to ensure that a growing Orthodox clientele could keep kosher.

So Krinsky began asking parents of campers and others in the community if they saw a need for a camp that offered secular programs in an observant framework.

Soon, he says, he realized that “if you wear a yarmulke, and you play golf, you have nowhere to go” for summer camp.

But at Yaish Shabbat, “it’s all Jewish — it’s so much easier,” he says.

Dina Lyman, 20, a junior at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for women and a counselor at Yaish Shabbat, calls the camp “a way of life.”

A former counselor at Camp Lavi in Pennsylvania, she’ll help campers talk about the harmful impact of gossip some days after morning prayers and how they can avoid it when things heat up on the basketball court or golf course.

Mixing Jewish teaching and sports ” just flows naturally,” she says. “To some, this isn’t a vacation from Judaism, it’s your essence.”

For these campers, that’s more than rhetoric. Like any kids, they laugh and joke with each as they help the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s “Israel Now” program by creating a mural showing solidarity with Israeli kids living with terrorism.

They draw messages like “Israel Rules,” pictures of hands colored with American and Israeli flags gripped tightly together, peace signs and hearts.

“Rav Kook wrote that we should show love for each other for no other reason than that we’re one nation,” Berkowitz tells the campers, speaking of one of one of Judaism’s leading 20th-century thinkers.

Krinsky, meanwhile, believes there’s a bright future for a camp that fosters that kind of commitment.

So far the camp has attracted kids largely from the metropolitan New York area, though a few came from as far away as France and Latin America.

But “wherever there’s an Orthodox shul, there’s my customers,” he says.

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