By Hanna Fogel
Indianapolis native Lauren Schwartz is only 17 years old, but is already making her mark on the world. She recently returned from a summer in Israel, two weeks of which were spent at Camp Koby, a summer program for children who had lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. Lauren first heard about the camp when its director, Moshe Aron, came to speak at her school, Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago.
“I told my father and my friends that if I wanted to do something with my summer this past year I would want to do something with chesed (kindness),” she said. “That’s why I got into Camp Koby. I was really interested in how we would work with kids who went through such a horrific time in their lives, and that I could help change how they feel about their summer for two whole weeks… That itself blew my mind. I knew I wanted to go and spend my summer with those kids.”
In many ways, Camp Koby is like a typical summer camp – there are shared meals, swimming, and other sports and activities. But Camp Koby is ever mindful of the campers for whom they are caring, so they have built in therapy time as well, in order to help the children process their grief in meaningful ways. As Lauren explains, “There were animal, active, art, and counsel therapy sessions. For the animal therapy we had different animals come in, like a turtle, bunnies, mice, and a guinea pig. The kids took turns petting them and then we would learn what types of animal they were and what they eat.
“During active therapy the kids had scooters, bikes, jump ropes and small trampolines. They would be able to move around freely and do whatever they wanted on the active toys. We would teach some how to use them so they put their focus on learning how to improve. In art therapy we were able to make anything we wanted from clay and we were given different art supplies to decorate our creations. Counseling was with a rabbi or the head therapist, Jackie. She would just talk to them, tell them stories, and give them life lessons to learn from to help them try to cope with their losses.”
The camper-to-counselor ratio at Camp Koby is very low – Lauren and her co-counselor Leora had three ten-year-old girls to supervise – so bonds formed fast. Lauren is quick to gush about her campers:
“They reached out to us and wanted to do everything with us. They told us funny stories and made us cards to hang in our rooms; they looked up to us as their older sister type figures. They were such amazing, sweet girls. What they don’t realize is that every moment I had with them made my day. They said that we helped them have a great summer and touched their hearts, but I think they made my summer, and truly touched my heart and wanted me to become a better person. I really miss them so much. They also want to stay in touch with me, which made me so happy to hear.
“They would call me and wish me a good Shabbas, or ask how I am doing. Those girls made my summer truly incredible. …They made me smile and want to be the best me I could be, not for them, but for me. Those children are a true inspiration to everyone. They were able to pick themselves up after a loss in their lives and have a great day no matter what.”
Lauren had been to Israel before –she attended the Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis from fifth to eighth grade, and had traveled there with her eighth grade class. Even so, she was thrilled to return – she particularly loved davening at the Kotel, spending Shabbat in Tsfat, and visiting the Negev. But of course, the most meaningful part of her summer was the time she spent at Camp Koby. Lauren was together with 45 high school students on this program, many of them Israelis.
Lauren is the daughter of Drew and Shelley Schwartz who are members of Congregation B’nai Torah. She has a twin brother Sam and two younger brothers and a younger sister. While attending the Hasten Hebrew Academy, Lauren was active in NCSY, where she met teens from all over the Midwest. She also volunteered with Yachad, an organization for children and young adults who have disabilities. She went on Shabbatons for them and love being with them.
For more information on Camp Koby go to www.campkoby.com or the Koby Mandell Foundation go to www.kobymandell.org.
Hanna Fogel has lived in Indianapolis most of her life and has been part of the Jewish community. She attended the Hasten Hebrew Academy from Gan through 8th grade, spent her summers at JCC camps, and remains a member of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla. Alongside writing for the Jewish Post & Opinion, she is currently a copy editor for NUVO Newsweekly, founding staff writer for The Relish (an e-publication dedicated to female sports fans; sign up for the twice-weekly newsletter at therelish.com or view longer posts at medium.com/the-relish), and a freelance book editor. For more information on the latter, check out her website at hannamfogel.wordpress.com. She can be reached on Twitter at @hannamfogel, or by email at email@example.com.