Area women spearhead drive to create camp for Gush Katif
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Area women spearhead drive to create camp for Gush Katif

TEANECK – On Mother’s Day last Sunday, two local moms were thinking about other women’s children — the children whose lives were literally uprooted when their families were forced to evacuate their homes in the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip less than a year ago.

Zahava Englard and Gwenn Peretz, both involved in a major fund-raising campaign to send some 650 former young Gush Katif residents to a therapeutic 10-day summer camp in Israel, talked passionately about the project. They hope all Jewish parents, regardless of politics, will share that passion.

"Even if they were for the disengagement, they have to realize the kids are really suffering," said Englard, a trustee of One Israel Fund, whose new Women’s Division is sponsoring the camp together with the Council of Gush Katif Residents and the Koby Mandell Foundation.

"These children were ripped way from the only home they knew, and now they’re living in tent cities and caravans," Englard said. "Everyone thinks the government compensated these people, but it’s not true. They have absolutely nothing. They are walking around listless, and there have been several suicide attempts."

The Summer of Opportunities program, a post-trauma camping experience, aims to help 10- to 14-year-old girls and boys confront the painful August anniversary of their expulsion, she said. Based on the framework for traumatic bereavement therapy developed at Camp Koby for terror victims, the camp is expected to cost in excess of $500,000 because of the trained personnel needed to staff it.

"We’re getting psychotherapists and social workers in order to help give these kids a reason to go on and believe things will be better," Englard said.

Peretz, co-chairwoman of the project along with two Long Island mothers, said she spoke with some of the displaced children at One Israel Fund’s annual dinner in April.

"They told me we cannot imagine how our caring makes them feel and how much the [idea of the] camp means to them," she said. "I’ve done a lot of fund-raising projects in my time, and this is the most important one I’ve ever done. These kids were taken from paradise to development towns, where they’re living in substandard housing surrounded by unemployment, crime, and drug abuse. They have feelings of despair, anger, and guilt."

Yedidya Harush, 17, a former Gush Katif resident who has spent this school year attending yeshiva high school in Edison, said many of his fellow evacuees are still traumatized.

"So many of the children from Gush Katif have had psychological problems from this past summer, and ‘0 have even been hospitalized for mental issues," Harush said. "The kids who go to this camp will be able to have fun under the supervision of people who know what they are going through and how to help. They will be able to enjoy the summer in a way that their parents could never afford to pay for. I know this firsthand, as some of my siblings will be able to attend."

But only if there are sufficient funds, added Peretz. "If we don’t raise enough money, the Gush Vaad [Council] will have to pick and choose which children can go. I would hate for that to happen." She welcomes calls for more information at (’01) ’87-9338, and notes that $750 covers the cost for one camper. Donations may be made out to The One Israel Fund and sent to 366 Pearsall Avenue, Cedarhurst, NY 11516, earmarked "Summer of Opportunities." Donors can receive information about the child or children they are sponsoring.

"These are our fellow Jews," said Englard. "Most of our own kids here are set up in camps the September before for a wonderful fun-filled summer. The least we can do is be an extended mother to all these children who have lost their homes and certainly deserve a 10-day retreat from the hardships of their lives."

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