Friday, July 24, 2009

The Human Spirit: Camp Season

By Barabara Sofer
24 July 09

The parade of pets this morning at the summer camp in Dimona included a funny-looking insect called a stick mantis, yellow cockatoos, a bright green iguana, a duo of snakes and a bucket of bunnies. One of the middle-school lads in the group of campers shakes his head and moves away as the mantis is passed around. No one calls him a sissy. Ever so inconspicuously, one of the camp counselors sits down beside him.

'Shir can tell Eliana her...

'Shir can tell Eliana her story because Eliana has a matching atrocity.'
Photo: Courtesy

The black and white rodents called "panda bear hamsters" are less intimidating. One of the hamsters has given birth to a litter of cubs, tiny bald, pink creatures with closed eyes. Z, nine years old, gently strokes one, no larger than his thumb. The cub wriggles in his palm. "Look, the babies are the cutest," he says to no one in particular.

The minuscule animals are nearly transparent. T can feel the minute hearts beating in his hand. These cubs are among the smallest living beings that can be caressed. They're so tiny and vulnerable, yet fully alive. The connection between kids and this pulsing animal life is therapeutic, say proponents of pet therapy. Interaction with animals for traumatized children is reputed to promote physical and emotional well-being. It boosts self-esteem by allowing children to master their fear. Animals are unpredictable and captivate their attention, encouraging them to open up and talk.

Talking and reaching out for help are hard for Z, who has become withdrawn in the little more than a year since his 16-year-old brother was murdered by a terrorist in Jerusalem. All 120 boys in the camp have also lost a sister or brother, mother or father. Theirs is a fraternity of sorrow.

WELCOME TO Camp Koby - Koby Mandell was murdered in May 2001. On a Jewish version of a Tom Sawyer adventure, Koby, 13, and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran, 14, cut eighth grade class one spring day to explore the wadi, the dry river bed in their village of Tekoa. When they didn't come home at sunset, their parents began to worry. Search teams were dispatched. The dreaded news of every loving parent's worst nightmare came after sunrise. The boys' bodies had been found. Terrorists had bludgeoned them to death.

To perpetuate Koby's memory and to prevent their grief from ripping them apart, Koby's parents established a foundation in his name. Wrote Koby's mother Sherri Mandell in her celebrated, poignant memoir, The Blessing of a Broken Heart, "Koby has made us holy beggars, people who are begging to give, begging to create love. This is his gift to us."


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