When SINAI Schools and Camp Shalom first partnered seven years ago, they laid the framework for a successful model of a camp chesed initiative. “I believe strongly in what SINAI does,” Rabbi Yehoshua Gold, Camp Shalom’s director told The Jewish Link. “They provide an excellent education for children with a range of abilities. Camp Shalom is proud to host this important fundraiser for SINAI Schools in our swimming pools,” he said. Rabbi Gold is also assistant director of SINAI’s Maor High School at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
Along with Camp Shalom, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Simon of Teaneck Chabad’s Kiddie Camp joined the SINAI fun with a version of a swim-a-thon fundraiser geared toward their younger campers. Swim for SINAI volunteer Miriam Kaminetzky brought her ruach—and her brightly decorated swim props—to the Bogota Swim Club. Kaminetzky has worked with the Simons on past Swim for SINAI events and, together, their warmth and rapport blend to make this event informative and exhilarating for the campers and their families. “As always, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Simon are so supportive of everything we do” said Kaminetzky. “They help make Swim for SINAI as successful as it has been each year.”
The summer of 2017 saw a positive expansion in the Swim for SINAI programming. Ilana Rauzman, a Teaneck resident and a morah at Yeshivat Noam, joined the Swim for SINAI team and added Al HaDerech and Shira Kronenberg’s travel camp to the program. These camps did not have access to swimming pools in the same way as Shalom and Chabad, so they put everyone’s collective creativity together, and a new event was created. Titled Sweat for SINAI, the campers raised money by running laps or other exercise.
At the same time, individual campers started reaching out to SINAI and to the community-based volunteers, asking what they could do on their own to be a part of SINAI’s mission. Whether
it was because they were in a camp that was not part of the Swim for SINAI event, or because they were already in a partnering camp and felt so strongly about what they had heard that they wanted to do even more, lemonade stands, bake sales and other miniature entrepreneurial ventures were spreading a message of inclusion throughout their communities. “Swim for SINAI and Sweat for SINAI events are so much more than fundraisers,” said Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs, dean of SINAI Schools. “These events are an opportunity to educate and sensitize children about appreciating those with different abilities.”
Fast forward to 2018. Swim for SINAI is now seven years old, and Camp Shalom and Chabad Kiddie Camp are steadfast partners in this event. Al Haderech will participate again this year, and the camp’s head counselor, Deena Lewin, stepped on board to co-chair the events as well. “One of the things I love is going to each camp’s SINAI event and watching the children engage with the speaker, and listen with rapt attention,” said SINAI’s chief development officer, Esti Herman. “Aggie Siletski speaks as a parent of a former SINAI student, and asks if anyone knows what SINAI is. When children can raise their hand and say their family, friend or a neighbor attends SINAI, this makes it real to them.”
This summer SINAI is thrilled to add Camp Regesh to the list of partnering camps. “The addition of Camp Regesh is exciting. With several hundred children attending their camp, it has expanded this summer fundraiser exponentially,” said SINAI’s director of communications, Abigail Hepner Gross. “The entire initiative is volunteer drive. It’s so meaningful for us to see the swell of children who have come forward this year to do more.”
Pop-up sales to benefit SINAI sprang up throughout the area. Aliza Sytner attends Camp Shalom, but wanted to do more, so she set up a lemonade stand in front of her house. Another mom, Itiya Wolman posted her daughter’s ice cream and homemade chipwich sale in a Teaneck Moms Facebook group. “It’s nice to see how kids step up and take initiative,” said Lewin. “Kids are learning to help other kids. We are trying to make it something fun for them, and they are learning to think about others.”
With the addition of Sweat for SINAI, anyone can participate, in any camp and any size group. This idea, a response to community requests, was brought home again when Nava Siev, a camper attending Teaneck Sports and Arts Camp, saw a flyer for Swim for SINAI that her brother brought home from Camp Shalom, and she set out to find a way of participating on her own. Lewin mobilized and set up an after-camp event as Siev recruited a group of friends to join her. “Nava was determined, and her mother worked hard on it too,” said Lewin. “The power of the Sweat for SINAI events is how the campers can go home and involve their parents in this. Nava will remember her involvement for years to come, and her mother will always be proud of what they achieved together.”
“SINAI is the opportunity for every child to have a Jewish education even when they may need an extra helping hand. The Swim/Sweat for SINAI events allow the community to be a part of that effort, and is led by the children, many of whom are their friends or family,” said Herman.
“The campers became actively involved in a chesed while gaining a better understanding of the importance of inclusion, how even though someone can look or behave differently, inside we are all the same,” stated Rabbi Rothwachs.
Anyone interested in participating should feel free to reach out to SINAI for their own Sweat for SINAI opportunity. Visit www.swimforsinai.org for more information.
This article was originally published in The Jewish Link.