Fun and Laughter in a Land of Chaos


January 13, 2003

Forty yellow school buses make the rounds through Buenos Aires and the surrounding suburbs morning and afternoon, ferrying over 900 children back and forth daily. On the surface, it's another popular day camp doing its job. But a closer look reveals an aberration: for 20 pesos—roughly the equivalent of two American dollars, Morasha provides transportation, meals, and trip fees included. Rabbi Israel Kapelushnik, director of the camp, points to the lively campers pronouncing the blessings on the food they eat and singing Jewish camp songs with gusto. “Not a single one of these children attends a Jewish school year-round,” he observes.

An extraordinary summer program, Camp Morasha is an offshoot of Morasha, the innovative after-school relief program. Founded last year by Chabad of Argentina in conjunction with the local Sefardic community, Morasha was designed for Jewish children affected by Argentina's shattered economy. Offering hot meals, lessons in English language skills and Judaic studies, and a host of extra-curricular activities in seven centers across Greater Beunos Aires, the Morasha program gives children, whose families do not have the wherewithal, the tools they need to function in Argentina's devastated society.

So when the school year ended in December, the obvious thing to do, says Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, director of Chabad of Argentina, was to extend Morasha into the summer. Registration for the summer program opened at Morasha centers, and word traveled fast. "We were inundated with requests for applications," says Rabbi Kapelushnik. "From an expected 600 children, currently enrolled in Morasha, registration quickly topped 900, when we were forced to close it." So Morasha evolved into a full-fledged six-week summer day camp. Club Casa, a rented campsite just outside the city, equipped with large grounds and sports fields, two swimming pools, and three dining halls, houses the camp, and a fleet of buses that transports the kids in from the city each day.

The reason for the overflow of interest is obvious enough: "If they're not at Morasha or a similarly subsidized program, many of these kids would be on the streets all summer," Rabbi Kapelushnik says. "We are committed to giving these children everything—from three meals a day and good old fashioned summer fun, to a Jewish experience rich in everything they lack all year."

"This is a body and soul experience for them," he says. "Unfortunately, there are so many children here normally deprived of both."

Running the camp takes an enormous amount of coordinated effort: Rabbi Kapelushnik oversees a staff of 150 people-and generous financial backing from philanthropists both locally and abroad. Rabbi Grunblatt points to the support of Messers. Eli Horn and Eduardo Elzstain, of Buenos Aires, Mr. Morris Tabacinik of Miami, and the partnership of the Joint Distribution Committee as crucial to the camp's survival. "Camp Morasha has the feel of a regular Chabad camp in Argentina- or anywhere else in the world, for that matter," he says. "Despite the struggle for funds, nothing is lacking in the camp experience."

Camp ends on January 31, and then, one month later, it's back to the Morasha after-school program, where Rabbi Kapelushnik expects attendance to increase by several hundred this year. "There's simply nowhere else in the city to get what we offer them."

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