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Chabad Ontario launches overnight camp

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Rabbi Itchy Grossbaum, left, and Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, meet with contractors at the site of Chabad’s new summer camp.

TORONTO — Chabad Lubavitch of Ontario will open an overnight camp in Haliburton this summer, some five years after the organization purchased a 200-acre lakefront site with 6,000 feet of shoreline.

It is the organization’s second overnight camp in Canada. The other is in Quebec, and there are a handful in the United States.

Chabad has run a day camp in Thornhill for more than 30 years that serves 600 children each summer. In the early 1990s, it ran an overnight camp at a rented site for three years.

The new $6-million camp is expected to open in July with a four-week session for boys, to be followed by a session in August for girls.

The Sidney and Naomi Spiegel Camp Gan Israel was already zoned for overnight camp use. Lubavitch purchased an existing non-Jewish camp on Lake Basshaunt for $2 million in 2007, and has raised $5 million to date.

In an article on, lead sponsor Sidney Spiegel, president of Crawford Metal, said he “was not fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to camp” and that the outdoors is “very beneficial for all children.”

Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, the driving force behind the creation of the camp, said that Lubavitch overnight camps are called Gan Israel to honour the memory of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century rabbi who founded Chassidism, whose given name was Yisrael. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, named the camps because the Baal Shem Tov frequented the wilderness, Rabbi Grossbaum said. “That’s where you serve God without interference,” he added.

Camp activities will include daily Torah classes and davening, team sports, hiking, and waterfront activities like swimming, rowing, canoeing and sailing.

The camp recently received a grant for a full-size basketball court, Rabbi Grossbaum said. He added that the camp is based on a model serving 150 campers per session, but this summer he expects about half that number.

Enrolment for one session is approximately $2,000. The rabbi noted that the organization is working on a program to bring down the cost. “We’re very sensitive to the challenges families have raising children – the cost of education and of camps.”

Rabbi Grossbaum’s son Rabbi Itchy Grossbaum, will serve as camp director. He will continue his involvement as director of Chabad’s Friendship Circle, a program that pairs teens with special needs children.

The younger rabbi, 28, said he’s excited about the new camp. As director, he aims to bring “a warmth of Yiddishkeit, and of life in general” to the campers, he said.

Having attended Chabad camps in Ontario and New York, he believes the experience creates unity and fosters long-lasting friendships.

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