Camp HASC was feted during a Shabbaton last weekend in West Hempstead, with events held at the community’s four shuls — the Young Israel of West Hempstead, Chabad of West Hempstead, Eitz Chaim of Dogwood Park, and Congregation Anchei Shalom.
Camp HASC Executive Director of Development Rabbi Peretz Hochbaum, himself a West Hempstead resident, said he was impressed with the large number of HASC staff who have come from the community over the years.
“We get 25 or so staffers each year from here,” Rabbi Hochbaum said. “There is amazing chesed in this community.”
Sixty people attended dinner at Eitz Chaim following Friday night services. Later, about 100 people were at an oneg, led by HASC staff alum Mordechai Shapiro, at the home of Larry and Lisa Siegel.
Shabbos morning, participants davened in various shuls, and ate lunch with their hosts.
After asking for a refuah shlema for Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer and sharing fond recollections of attending services at YIWH while growing up, Head Counselor Rabbi Avi Pollak spoke about the recent passing of his sister.
“Caryn represented people with intellectual disabilities with grace and with pride,” he said. “The acceptance, love and support that she felt from this unique community helped her develop the confidence that was the basis for her magic.”
Rabbi Pollak recounted speaking with a mother who had just dropped off her eldest child, suffering with severe autism, to begin seven weeks at Camp HASC. “I asked her, ‘are you going to go on vacation or do something out of town with your family, get away or something like that?’
“With a tear in her eye, she turned to me and said — ‘Nope, I’m going to take my little children to the park. For the past few years, I have not been able to take them out for fear that my son, your camper, would run off or get lost, or who knows what. Now I can spend some easy-going time with them. That’s worth more than any vacation I could take’.”
Rabbi Pollak then told a story that unfolded two days earlier, while he was interviewing prospective campers “and their hopeful but sometimes desperate parents and caretakers, who don’t really have another option for the summer,” for just a handful of openings.
“I witnessed something I’d never seen before,” he said. “A young mother, with a double stroller and twin boys entered the room. Both of these absolutely beautiful children have a rare form of a seizure disorder, both suffering from various levels of developmental delay and intellectual disability.
“As she unbuckled the kids and they began to crawl and cruise around the room, it was hard to hold back our tears. We felt the need to hold those tears back, but she did not. She loves them, she cares for them with every fiber of every muscle in her body and spends her last penny to make sure they are cared for so well, but please, she begged, what a chesed you would do for her family and the other children and for her and her husband, if they could have a break for the summer, regain the ability to focus on each other, and to recharge for another year. Iy”H, these delicious little kids will be with us this summer in Camp HASC.”
The shabbaton continued with games and snacks at the home of Jeremy and Meryl Strauss. Students from Yeshiva Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem joined the HASC participants there.
Afterwards, Rabbi Hochbaum noted that he was touched by the feedback from weekend.
“I think this might be the best text message I’ve ever received,” he said. “It reads: ‘Camp HASC and my campers taught me that the everyday blessings of life are truly extraordinary.’ And that really sums it up.”