At Camp Gan Israel, Kids Build Mental Muscles


Soccer, water sports, ga ga, and swimming are the staples of the summer camp experience. By summer’s end campers can expect to be a few shades darker, a notch fitter, and with muscles that are a bit more limber. 

At Camp Gan Israel in Northbrook, kids have also been stretching their minds this summer. Over the course of the summer session, children will have had the chance to learn computer coding, hone their chess skills, and even advance their Hebrew reading. 

“Chess was so, so fun,” enthused Eitan Cohen, 6, from Riverwoods, who noted with pride that he can now play the game.

“When people hear that kids are learning computer coding, they do a double-take,” says director Rabbi Schneur Scheiman. “They ask me, ‘didn’t they just finish school?’ But the truth is that kids enjoy learning, especially when it’s voluntary and in a fun and positive environment.”

All of the courses are “electives,” meaning that children get to choose them from a wide variety of other possibilities, including food fun, martial arts, clay formation, and more.

He says parents especially appreciate the Hebrew reading course, which uses the Alpeh Champ method, which has proven successful in Chabad Hebrew schools in recent decades.

When Gan Israel Day Camp opened its doors in the summer of 1977, he explains, the model was simple enough. Throw together some organized sports, lively cheers, Jewish traditions, and a trip every few days, and the program was more than enough to attract hundreds of children from across Chicago and the North Suburbs.

“Forty years later,” says Scheiman, “day camp has become a highly specialized business, with parents signing their children up for a variety of camps touting a specific sport, skill or adventure. We believed that children would enjoy stretching their intellectual muscles, and our hunch proved right.”