Name and position: Mrs. Chaya Levy, Director
Business Name: Camp Rena Performing arts
Years in business: 1
Location: Midwood, Brooklyn
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
My husband and I live in Mill Basin with our five children. We are new grandparents, with our married children in Lakewood and our youngest two girls attending Lev Bais Yaakov. My husband has served as the Rabbi in the Tiferet Ovadia Synagogue for the last 15 years. He is also a rosh kollel and has been learning since the day we married, baruch Hashem, which is my biggest source of pride. My husband and I have been working together on many community related projects, primarily bringing families closer to yiddishkeit, communal Pesach sedarim, Shabbatons, and special events that allow me to connect with the women in our community, helping our members transition into more religious individuals. Over the years, we have seen a tremendous growth and this gives us koach to continue on our path. On my personal journey, I have been in chinuch for over two decades, most recently as educational director at Manhattan Day School where I headed the Hebrew Department. Before that, I worked in HALB for six years in a similar role. I was also the eighth grade Mechanechet at the local community school in Mill Basin, where I loved working with girls who are now mostly married with kids and many of whom now daven in our shul. That is so rewarding!
Did you have camp administrative experience before you launched Camp Rena?
When I was newly married, I launched a teen travel camp called Vigi Travel and ran it for two years. I also directed a large day camp upstate for several years. It is amazing how the world is so small, and people you’ve interacted with in the past can suddenly show up in your current life. For example, I ran an arts and crafts program during the first summer of my marriage in a camp that does not exist today (that was 22 years ago. Fast forward to last summer, when I met a parent at Camp Rena who immediately recognized my face and introduced herself as the shy eighth grader who worked as my assistant all those years before. It’s amazing how life evolves. Several of my high school classmates chose to send their daughters to Camp Rena, not knowing it was me until we met!
What prompted you to open a new day camp?
I am by nature a “people person” and love to engage with people from all walks of life. I especially love working with children and watching their growth development, knowing that the small child you see today can be the successful and great influencer of tomorrow. After two decades of doing special events and programs for children, I knew that I was ready to create something which I am passionate about and that would make an impact on children’s development. I decided that providing a fun yet skilled summer program would be a great way to bring together the different strengths and talents that I had to offer. Watching campers truly grow during our inaugural summer has been satisfying beyond words. I can’t wait to do it again.
How do you feel a child’s focus on developing a talent can impact her development?
I grew up in Israel, and my family moved to New York when I was a young girl. Israeli society places a very heavy emphasis on the arts. Children arrive home early and have plenty of time to engage in extracurricular activities. However, the majority of yeshivas today require long hours and rigorous scholastic curriculums with little to no attention to developing the performing arts. Inherently, I have been artistically inclined and I dance. Over the years, my parents tried to send me to programs here and there but I remember that I always wanted to learn more. There was definitely a void and not enough attention was given to develop that passion further. Research today points to the fact that performing arts skills are the foundational basis for all learning. They also sharpen the mind and stretch the intellectual muscles in ways that traditional learning cannot. As Albert Einstein put it: Creativity is intelligence having fun! I couldn’t agree more.
How do you choose your head staff?
In creating this unique program, I knew that I needed like-minded individuals who would carry out the camp mission statement. Being warm, accepting, encouraging, positive, energetic, patient, and wholesome are all prerequisites for our leadership team. We are blessed to have found Nechama Sittner (whom I call a tzadekes), Dasi Levinger (Rabbi Mintz’s daughter, from Oorah), and Rachel Krieser (a supermom of 9; you know those moms?) on board at Rena. Between them, we have over 80 years of combined chinuch and programming experience. But most importantly, they carry the torch of being amazing role models for our campers and staff.
This will be Camp Rena’s second summer. In what way will it differ from last year’s experience?
When I first launched Camp Rena, I thought I would be happy if we had 150 campers. I didn’t fathom the overwhelming response and support that we received from everyone! . In a very short amount of time we filled registration to triple that amount, b’chasdei Hashem, My dream became a reality and our first summer was a huge success. Moving into our second season, we have branched out in order to accommodate our previous campers and their siblings. We are excited about our new summer campus location at the Tiferes Yisroel yeshiva building with 90,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor facilities that will enable us to provide our special programming in a spacious, neat, and air-conditioned building. We have also expanded our divisions to include teen and preschool divisions with separate emphasis on the boys and girls. Under the direction of our head staff, we are really confident that Be’ezras Hashem this summer will be most incredible.
What have you learned on the job?
Running a camp for the first year, you get to learn many, many things on the job😊
The lesson that I learned this summer is that it’s best not to offer bus service. No, just kidding. But what I did actually learn (and this applies to life in general) is that sometimes you can have everything planned out to the last detail and then you get a curveball which can totally throw you off balance. Hashem is always reminding us that we are not always in control. The key to success is to embrace the challenge, recalculate, and move on. And that was how we were able to navigate our first summer. We gave it all we got. But sometimes, we needed to handle that curveball and that was not in our hands.
What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve had as camp director?
There were so many memorable moments, Even though I was the “camp director” I was greatly involved in getting to know the campers and often instructed the main activities along with our head counselors and enjoyed interacting with each camper on a personal level. My favorite part of the day was waiting to greet the busses and greeting every single girl that came off the bus. On one particular Friday right before Tisha B’Av a girl came off the bus and confided that she had a huge fight on the bus with her close friend. They both looked very despondent. I told the girls to come to me after davening to work through it. It just so happened that immediately after davening, we had a Tisha B’av cantata and we had invited Mrs.Jackie Bitton (a Rena parent) to speak to the girls. It was really a very special and meaningful experience. Well, the most meaningful part was when these two girls came over to me after the event and said with a smile that they worked it out. That to me was an epic moment of recognizing that my campers internalized the message they learned and applied it to their every day life. What can feel more rewarding? Another milestone was during our end of the summer musical performance. Watching the grand finale the night before camp ended was magical. Tears kept rolling down my eyes and my heart was bursting with joy as I kept saying over and over “Thank you Hashem!”
What is your top advice for parents sending to camp for the first time?
My advice to parents is to choose their children’s’ camps carefully. The summer is a great opportunity for our children to thrive and flourish. We want to be sure that they are placed in an environment that will facilitate growth and stimulation. Beware of social bullying that can happen freely in programs that are subpar. It’s not worth choosing a camp based on cost. Make sure that the camp administration is fully in sync with what is directly affecting campers on a daily basis.