Sunday, October 21, 2018

(Courtesy of Camp HASC) There was an incredible amount of simcha in the air at the Camp HASC Simchaton! Close to 300 people gathered in the beautiful grounds of their summer home, the beloved Camp HASC, to experience an unforgettable Simchat Torah together. Campers of all ages, staff members and camp families reunited to celebrate the beauty of the chag and each other. The summer may have come to a close months ago, but the ruach and memories are still running strong in our Camp HASC community.

From the minute the buses pulled into camp erev chag, it was clear that this was going to be an unforgettable experience. The counselors, waitresses, medical staff, recreation team, therapists, teachers, rabbanim and, of course, the campers, had an opportunity to briefly reconnect, settle in and unpack before the extended three-day yom tov began.

Shabbos davening in Camp HASC is always the highlight of the week—the singing and dancing truly lifts one’s neshama. But davening and hakafot this yom tov were absolutely unforgettable. Campers, each with their own abilities and styles, were an integral part of the celebration and ruach. Regardless of whether the camper walks on his or her own, uses crutches, sits in a stroller or uses a wheelchair, the dancing was completely inclusive and centered around their participation and enjoyment. Whether a camper sings and speaks aloud, uses sign language, an adaptive communication board or uses other ways to communicate, they were able to participate in hakafot and partake in the joy all around them.

Not only were the hakafot fully inclusive, they were also creative and uniting. The recreation team, led by Rav Daniel Eisenberg as well as Mendy Eisenberg and Yaacov Citer, made sure to choreograph them using a multi-sensory approach, and all the activities throughout yom tov were designed to meet the individualized needs of our campers physically as well as spiritually. The hakafot were “community themed” and the songs and dancing celebrated different parts of Am Yisrael around the world. Indeed, uniting Am Yisrael is a hallmark of Camp HASC each summer, and it was truly remarkable to watch campers and staff from across the Jewish spectrum celebrating the Torah together.

Before, during and after meals, campers and staff participated in adaptive and engaging activities, including edible sukkah-making, a “Days of Creation” activity and activities centered on learning about and creating their own model sifrei Torah. But the learning did not stop with the campers; our camp rav, Rabbi Yehuda Willig, as well as other staff and guests delivered shiurim and shmuzen to the staff members all throughout yom tov, making it a yom tov of learning and growth for all who attended.

Though Simchas Torah and Shabbos were beautiful throughout, there were a few highlight moments that we will not forget. Seeing the campers dance to the Aron Kodesh under the “Se’u She’arim bridge” and all have a chance to kiss the Torah and approach the aron was beautiful. Witnessing all our campers gathering lovingly under the tallit for a Kol HaNe’arim brought tears to everyone’s eyes. And the highlight of the meals was singing along with our talented Camp HASC camper choir, “The Simcha-Tones.”

Rabbi Willig pointed out that he most enjoyed watching counselors raising up their campers, some from out of their wheelchairs, and dance lovingly with them—bringing joy to the campers and simultaneously bringing purpose and meaning into their own lives. Indeed, the special staff of Camp HASC returned from this Simchaton recharged and ready to continue working with individuals with disabilities and supporting their families all year long.

So many people collaborated on making Simchaton a success, before the program and during the three days of yom tov. But in the end, it is the unique ruach of Camp HASC campers, caretakers and staff that makes it a yearly success. All summer long, Camp HASC is a place of simcha and Torah… it makes perfect sense that it is also the ultimate place for Simchat Torah.