By Menachem Posner, Chabad.org
Camp Log-N-Twig was founded in 1953 by the Neulight and Tener
families, catering to Jewish children from across the northeastern
United States. Nestled on 83 acres of wooded hills and lake lands in the
Pocono Mountains, the camp flourished for decades and was sold to the
New York UJA (United Jewish Appeal) Federation in 1998.
For the next 12 years the campsite, which boasts no less than 32 wooden buildings, was home to Camp Dina, a UJA-affiliated girls’ camp.
Sixty years after it was settled, thanks to an innovative arrangement
involving the UJA Federation, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the AVI
CHAI Foundation and Chabad-Lubavitch, the site will now become home to the newly renamed and expanded Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos, which grew out of Camp Gan Israel Bat-Mitzvah Experience.
“We began as a small camp just for preteen girls,” explains Gershon
Sandler, who has been directing the camp since he founded it in 2012
with his wife, Devorah.
“We had just four cabins on a rented property outside of Philadelphia,
so we couldn’t take more than 50 girls. With our new grounds, we will
have room for as many as 250 campers and are thrilled to be able to open
up the camp to girls entering second through ninth grades.”
Claire Segal, from Bucks County, Pa., has been attending the
Sandlers’ camp for the past two years and is excited about the changes.
“The first year, I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know anyone, and
there were girls from all over the world,” says Claire, now in eighth
grade. “But everyone was so friendly that we all became very good
friends very quickly. We still keep in touch with text messages and
The next year, Claire returned to camp with two school friends.
Some of her favorite memories, she says, include a trip to New York
City; a day at Dorney Park, an amusement park in nearby Allentown, Pa.;
and Shabbat celebrations that included old and new Jewish songs.
Claire’s mother, Donna, says it was an easy decision sending her
daughter there. “My daughter came home from Hebrew school with a flier
about the camp. I called our Chabad rebbetzin,
and she highly recommended the Sandlers,” who had previously directed
the Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs, Calif., says the mother of four,
who immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1988. “I
spoke to Rabbi Sandler over the phone, and he took the time to answer
all my questions and explain his approach to Jewish camping, so I just
knew it would be amazing.”
The Sandlers’ approach is based on Gershon’s diverse experience in
both the private and not-for-profit Jewish camping sectors, where he has
served in a variety of positions, including director of tours, sports
specialist, group leader, survival specialist, and eventually, director.
“As a child, camp was the highlight of my year,” says Gershon, who
grew up in what he describes as a nominally conservative Jewish
household and attended public school. “It was the only time that I was
surrounded primarily by Jewish children. Being part of the Jewish
majority was an experience that brought me much comfort. Also, I am an
experiential learner, so I just thrived in the overnight-camp setting.”
Donna Segal says that experiential learning is one of the aspects
that attracted her to the camp. “The teachings are very targeted. There
are literally girls there from all over the world, and the staff finds
the time and creativity to reach out to every girl on her level, making
sure that she is thriving, learning and having fun.”
The rabbi notes that the acquisition is a credit to the high-level cooperation of many Jewish organizations and leaders.
“When I first heard of this property, I consulted with Jeremy
Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp,” he explains. “He
helped me approach the UJA, who owned the campground, and introduce them
to our camp and our unique vision.”
In the end, UJA Federation supported the effort, selling the property
to them, thus keeping it in use as a Jewish camp. FJC also introduced
the Sandlers to the AVI CHAI Foundation, which provided an interest-free
loan that enabled Camp Gan Israel in the Poconos to make the down
payment and to renovate the campgrounds.
“We admire Gershon Sandler’s tenacity and enthusiasm for providing
more children with a positive, joyful Jewish experience,” says Jeremy J.
Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp. “We are excited to see Camp
Gan Israel in the Poconos flourish in its new location and look forward
its bright future.”
“This is an exciting opportunity for Jewish children,” says Rabbi
Nissen Brenenson, director of education at the Jewish Children’s Museum
in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of the camp’s board. “Overnight camp has
the amazing ability to bring out the best of children, creating a
powerful experience that can last a lifetime. And the Sandlers have
proven that they’ve got what it takes to make that happen—time and time
The newly acquired campgrounds are outfitted with 18 camper cabins,
large dining and recreation halls, a swimming pool, sports courts and
fields, a health center, climbing wall, zip line and more. They sit upon
woodlands with two streams converging into a freshwater lake.
With the new site, Gershon says the possibilities are endless. “We
are adding heat to the cabins, so we will be able to host Chabad House
retreats from early spring to late fall,” he projects. “Also, we’re
hoping to be able to open a boys’ division in August of 2015, to follow
the girls’ session in July. And, of course, we are excited about being
able to accept so many more girls into the program.”
Which is good, because Claire and her two friends have already
recruited a fourth girl to join them, most likely with more to follow.