(Click HERE for photos) Camp Simcha Special. If one had to sum up that magical place in one word, its name would do it best: Special. For Camp Simcha Special is probably one of the most astonishing places on earth. The place where seriously ill children come for several extraordinary weeks to bask in the love and attention showered upon them by a crew of incredible counselors. The place where children with the most rare or disabling of diseases can forget their daily reality of pain and suffering and just laugh and play and sing all day long. The place where the daunting shadow of unimaginable suffering is transformed into the brightest rays of love and hope and joy.
Camp Simcha Special. Where every child is amazing. Where every counselor and staff member is unique. Where every day is special; incredibly special.
But some days are just more special than others. And Sunday, August 17th was one of those extra special days. That was the day that the campers were treated to a revered and honored guest, the Kossover Rebbe, shlita.
Against the backdrop of breathtaking scenery and magnificent grounds, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin arrived at camp. The well-known patron and long time supporter of Camp Simcha Special, Reb Shlomo Obstfeld, along with Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, director of community affairs and Rabbi Yaakov Klar, Achim Byachad community coordinator, welcomed the Rebbe and proceeded to take him on a tour of the camp. The Rebbe was given a firsthand glimpse of what Camp Simcha Special is all about as he viewed the bunkhouses, the dining hall, social hall, and the workshop rooms. During his tour of the grounds, the Rebbe warmly greeted and smiled to every camper he met.
“The Rebbe was clearly moved as he greeted the campers,” said Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, “And there were some high points that were truly emotion-laden. When we entered the Bais Medrash, we saw a young boy sitting in front of an open sefer. The Rebbe immediately noticed that the sefer was printed in Braille, and asked to be introduced to the child. After the introduction, we told the Rebbe that this boy is the gabbai in shul each Shabbos, calling out the aliyos perfectly from memory week after week. In addition, he davens pesukei d’zimrah before the amud, with the grace and poise of an experienced veteran. The Rebbe was overcome as he gazed upon this child who weathers his challenges with fortitude and strength.”
The Rebbe was then shown the swimming pool, the unique Camp Simcha Special swimming pool, possibly the only place in the world where children who are confined to wheelchairs with severe disabilities and handicaps are able to partake in the delightful summertime treat of swimming. Camp Simcha has specialized wheelchairs fashioned from plastic and canvas that can be fully submerged in water. With these exclusive wheelchairs, children who are severely limited all year long can enjoy the thrill and pleasure of swimming. Just gazing at the lineup of special wheelchairs alongside the pool is enough to illustrate part of the magic that occurs at Camp Simcha Special.
The infirmary was another stop, another moving experience. The Rebbe viewed the exceptional facility, which is equipped with the most sophisticated medical equipment and staffed by a highly specialized team of doctors and nurses.
After the tour of the sprawling campus, the Rebbe was taken to the social hall, where a lavish and memorable kabalas panim was set up. Amidst joyous singing of welcome by the children and their indefatigable counselors, the Rebbe was seated. Each child, along with his counselor, approached the Rebbe to give Shalom Aleichem and receive a personal bracha. The Rebbe also gave each child a gift, a krias shema al hamita, a souvenir of a memorable encounter that every camper would cherish for a long time. Children also had the opportunity to speak to the Rebbe, should they so wish.
Yeshaya, the blind boy whom the Rebbe had met earlier in the Bais Medrash, was given a warm bracha by the Rebbe. The child answered a heartfelt amein and then posed a request that personifies the bonds shared between Camp Simcha counselors and their young protégés. Yeshaya turned, gestured towards his counselor and ever so respectfully asked, “Now could the Rebbe give a bracha to my counselor?”
“The spirit of this camp is unmatched in the world,” commented Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, reflecting on the Rebbe’s visit. “The Rebbe was visibly overcome by the experience of seeing these kinderlach and what camp does for them firsthand.” After a few moments thought, Rabbi Kolodny continued.
“I had the zechus to be in Eretz Yisrael recently and visited the Kosel on a Friday night, truly an awe-inspiring experience. However, when showing the Rebbe around the camp, I told him that when I was in Camp Simcha Special for Shabbos, the emotions coursing through me as I davened Kabalas Shabbos along with over 100 seriously ill children, far superseded the emotions I experienced davening Kabalas Shabbos at the Kosel. The Rebbe gave me a long look and said just three words. ‘I believe you’.”
But in truth, Camp Simcha Special is unbelievable. Rabbi Kolodny related that before that Shabbos he spent at camp, he prepared his own children for what they would see and experience over the weekend, explaining that the campers were seriously ill. “It was Shabbos afternoon when my seven-year-old turned to me,” continued Rabbi Kolodny, “And she asked me in a whisper, ‘Tatty, where are all the sick kinderlach?’ I was floored. We are surrounded by illness, and illness that is very obvious to the eye. And yet, here she is, asking me where the sick children are?! I discreetly tell her that all the children are ill, but she persists in her claim that she hasn’t seen any sick children. ‘These kinderlach can’t be sick. They are happy!’ she exclaimed. What a powerful observation! Indeed, to a child, a sick child is a sad child. But the kinderlach at Camp Simcha Special are always happy. And smiling. That’s what camp does for them,” concludes Rabbi Kolodny.
And the children testify to it. When asked what the best part of camp is, their replies are instantaneous. “Here we are always having fun.” “I’m a normal kid here. No one is staring at me or avoiding me.” “My counselors are the best and they are here just for me!”
Indeed, every day in camp is “major,” with no two days alike. And for the boys of Camp Simcha Special, the Rebbe’s trip was a beautiful and meaningful highlight, a memory to be savored and cherished. The Rebbe greeted them, spoke to them, smiled at them and felt for them. And it was the Rebbe’s heartfelt closing bracha of refuah sheleimah to the children that generated a resounding “amein.”
An amein coming straight from the hearts of 114 very special, seriously ill kinderlach.
An amein that surely reverberated in the heavens as it traveled straight up to the kisei hakavod.
May its fulfillment come true very, very soon for the special kinderlach of Camp Simcha Special.
(YWN Desk – NYC)