COVID-19 puts the kibosh on Chabad of Plano’s Gan Israel summer
Aya Levy and Tamar Barth enjoy a day at Camp Gan Israel. Chabad of Plano closed the camp July 13 after two campers and two counselors tested positive for COVID-19

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Plano — On Monday, July 13, Rivkie and Rabbi Menachem Block made the difficult decision to close Camp Gan Israel, Chabad of Plano’s day camp, two weeks into its four-week program after two children and two counselors tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had to do the right thing, we had to protect the kids and their families,” Rabbi Block told the TJP.

Camp Gan Israel had been following county and state health department as well as CDC recommendations. As a licensed child care facility in the Texas, the guidelines are stringent, and parents were appreciative of the seriousness with which Chabad was taking precautions. Eighty children ages 2-7th grade were enrolled.

“I felt like the camp was doing everything they possibly could to keep the kids safe,” said Laura Hacker, whose 5-year old twins Rachel and Josh were attending camp. Hacker is also on Chabad of Plano’s camp committee.

By all accounts, the summer had been going well and the kids were enjoying camp. Parents noted that after being at home for so long they were eager for their young children to have some social interaction.

Doreen Preis, a child psychologist, had her two children, Ben, almost 5, and Dan almost 2 enrolled in Gan Israel.

“For Ben, he’s happy at home, but I can see how happy he is to go to camp,” said Preis, who a moved here from Tel Aviv in October for husband Ron’s job.

Hacker agreed, explaining that she is lucky that she has twins and they have each other to play with all the time, but there is no substitute from the social and emotional gains children get from playing with other children and interacting with people other than their parents.

“Right away I saw immediately for both of them a happiness that had been lacking for the last few months. …They were kids again — they were happy, they were singing camp songs and talking about their experiences.

This is exactly the service the Blocks were aimed to provide in reopening the camp, once the health department and governor gave the all-clear in June.

“The parents were really grateful. The parents needed it, the kids needed it.

There are so many parents that didn’t feel comfortable to come but there were a lot of parents that did feel comfortable to come. We provided a service, we did it, we’re happy we did it. We served the community,” said Rabbi Block.

The Blocks have gone a step further to protect the greater Chabad of Plano community. On Thursday, they announced that Chabad of Plano’s Lang Center would close indefinitely until it was safe to hold services there once again.

The shul had been holding daily minyanim and Shabbat morning services. All classes were being held online and will continue.

“Safety is the most important thing. People appreciate that,” Rabbi Block said.

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