The scene on Boro Park’s 56th Street Wednesday morning was a typical one for this time of year. Parents hugging their children, who squeal with happiness at the prospect of seven weeks of camp ahead.
But the sea of blue and dozens of wheelchairs swarming the Tiferes Elimelech yard signified something special — Camp HASC’s annual journey to its Parksville, N.Y., home. In a scene replicated in a half dozen other cities across the tristate area Wednesday morning, about 300 happy campers boarded buses, accompanied by an equal number of counselors and support staff.
“Moishy!” a trio of girls, wearing blue shirts with the Camp HASC logo on it, called excitedly as they rushed to greet a young boy of seven who just arrived with his parents.
Mrs. Esther Krausz, a woman from Williamsburg, was there with her son, who was going to camp for his third year.
“You see the counselors all around him?” she said, motioning to the girls talking excitedly to Moishy. “They come to visit him throughout the year.”
Mrs. Krausz said that preparing her son for camp was similar to preparing her other nine children — labeling his clothes, packing, getting him ready. “The reward is worth it,” she says.
During the year, Moishy goes to a special program in Crown Heights. But in camp he will do what other children do — socializing with friends, swimming, working on specific goals, along with his regular regimen of therapy and treatment.
She said that her son gets easily startled and may bump his head. “The first year he went I was a little nervous,” she admitted. “Now I’m not concerned at all. He loves it. As soon as the counselors called him to say that we’re going to camp, he started screaming happily.”
Presently, two parents walk into the yard, a 14-year-old boy walking with them.
The father, Mr. Eli Kaufman of Boro Park, said that his son was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, which leaves him unable to see or hear. He said that it is difficult for a stranger to pick up on the mood of his son, Menachem. But it is clear that he loves his annual trip to camp.
“We see a tremendous change when he is in camp,” Mr. Kaufman said. “We see that he loves it, when we go up on visiting day we see that he is very happy.”
It is Menachem’s tenth year at Camp HASC, which his parents said will allow them to “breathe” from the care he requires the rest of the year.
“Once you are in my shoes, living with a child like that, your life is different than the lives of anyone else out there,” he said. “The two months that we have respite from all this is something that you cannot describe. You can literally not describe it. It’s a 24-hour job, for two parents, taking care of a kid like this. And I have five kids besides him. Only people who go through it know what it means.”
Mr. Kaufman said that he and his wife’s close connection to Menachem makes it difficult for them to part with him. But his counselor, whom he described as a “tzaddik,” comes by throughout the year to speak to him and take him out for a few hours.
The counselors get paid, but the salary is so small compared to what they are responsible for practically makes them “volunteers,” said Yehuda Meir Horowicz, the development coordinator Camp HASC.
Rabbi Shmiel Kahn, the camp head, was walking around, speaking to this parent, tousling the hair of a camper and delivering last-minute instructions to a counselor.
“One parent said to me,” he told Hamodia, “the passuk says that ‘Yaakov went on his way’ — the parent had a child named Yaakov — that Yaakov went to camp, ‘and he met malachei Elokim’ — these are the counselors at Camp HASC.”
Benji Morris from London, who is currently in Yeshiva University, is one of those counselors. He began coming three years ago when he was learning in a yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. He was wearing a green shirt, which meant he was a member of “support staff.”
“This really is a special place,” he said. “But to see such chessed every day — I’ve never seen such a thing in my life. Where do you find a parking lot in Boro Park like this?”