Sherri Mandell

The Dreams at Camp Koby

At Camp Koby, the theme this summer is dreams. During the summer, some 400 bereaved children between the ages of 8 to 18 have attended our 8 day sleep away camp. “The Hebrew word for dream is the same root as the word for fight, for war,” one of the counselors later tells me. “One is in the air, one is on the ground but they both define dreams.” Camp Koby this summer has been a place for the children to escape the fighting and enter a dream of happiness and peace.

At camp there is creative therapy and one morning, the bibliotherapist reads the ten year old girls a story about a girl who wants to go visit a gorilla but her father is too busy to take her. Instead in the middle of the night the gorilla comes to her and they have a marvelous adventure. Was it a dream? In the morning she tells her father what has happened. She has the girls make up different endings to the story. Then the therapist asks the girls: “What is your dream?”

One girl says: “To be an artist like my father.” Later she explains to me that her father died when she was 8. Now she is 11. “But he was a painter,” she says. “He painted scenes of the Kotel and Jerusalem and now I copy his paintings and enter them into competitions. I want to go to art school to carry on his memory.”

Another girl with red curly hair and freckles on her cheeks tells me that her mother died of cancer and that she wants to be a nurse like her mother was.

A few days later, in art therapy, the therapist asks a group of young boys to draw their dreams. One boy spends 20 minutes painting and then turns his paper over. When the therapist gives the children a chance to share, the boy doesn’t want to talk about his painting. Later after everybody leaves, he stays there with the group leader, a teacher. He turns his paper over and tells the group leader that his brother died of illness when he was 3, but they were very close. In the picture he has drawn his dream: he is playing with his brother, only now the brother is a bigger boy.

“I thought he was three when he died,” says the teacher.

“Yes but my dream is that now he is eight, and I can really play with him.”

The counselor tells me that he hugged the boy and he cried on his shoulder for a long time, the tears soaking his shirt.

The counselor says that he realizes that the bereaved children of Camp Koby are like the paper that was turned over. You can not see anything on the side that is unmarked. They look like everybody else. But when you turn over the paper you get the inner story: one of longing and loss. Bereaved children don’t often share their loss and pain. They keep it hidden.

This summer, when we are in the middle of a war, camp is even more crucial because at least half of our children are from the south and areas that are under constant attack from missiles. A little girl from a moshav on the Egyptian border tells me that a missile fell in the back of her house, that they are constantly under bombardment.

These kids need our help so that they will feel safe, so that they won’t grow up hateful and shattered but rather resilient and hopeful, protected by a community that comforts them, cares for them, and supports them in expressing and realizing their dreams.

To help support the work of The Koby Mandell Foundation and Camp Koby, please join our #K13 campaign.

About the Author
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of the book "The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration." Her book, "The Blessing of a Broken Heart," won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She can be reached at
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