Member Communications 4 min read

From Afghanistan to Fredonia: How Two Little Boys Experienced Their First Summer at JCC Rainbow Day Camp

By JCC Milwaukee June 21, 2023

From Afghanistan to Fredonia: How Two Little Boys Experienced Their First Summer at JCC Rainbow Day Camp

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh – the Jewish value espousing that we are all responsible for one another – had a unique feeling last summer at the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp. 

In the winter of 2022, Afghan refugees were being resettled throughout the country with the support of “sponsor circles” created by groups of caring citizens. One such sponsor circle formed at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun and included JCC Board Vice Chair Reenie Kavalar. Reenie and her group helped welcome a young (and growing) Afghan family: a husband and wife with two small boys, and another baby on the way. The family got settled into an apartment and the boys started school – but as the school year came to a close, the question of, “What now?” loomed large. 

“Mom didn’t drive, and while Dad did, he didn’t have a license yet,” explained Reenie. “With a baby arriving in July, and Dad away at a job every day, the parents didn’t know how they’d provided the boys with a fun and enriching summer.” 

The sponsor circle worked with the JCC to provide the family with a membership; they asked the staff what might be possible for the boys over the summer. JCC Rainbow Day Camp Executive Director Lenny Kass stepped in. “We can take them,” he said.

Reenie brought the whole family to Fredonia to see the camp – it was an especially overwhelming experience for their mom. “She thought the boys would get lost there!” said Reenie, who assured the boys’ mom that she sent her own children and grandchildren to camp, and that it was a very safe place for them.

It was decided that the boys – Muhammed, then in kindergarten, and Mufasa, a first grader – would be placed in the same unit so that they had each other. There was still a language barrier, though they were understanding more and more.

The boys thrived at camp. With staff guiding them through the beginning of the summer, “you could see them relax and just be themselves,” Lenny shared. “These two little boys had big smiles and wide eyes watching the other kids do crafts and play sports – and they learned by watching and following along,” he said. Lenny added that knowing English didn’t matter: “Friday hot dog lunch is good no matter what! Language is not needed to enjoy a hot dog,” Lenny quipped.

By the end of summer, Mohammed and Mufasa knew the camp routine and did not need extra help. They learned to sing Shabbat songs – “interesting to hear from Muslims,” Reenie offered – and they shared words in Farsi for campers and staff. 

The boys will return to Rainbow Day Camp in summer 2023; “they are both so excited to go back,” Reenie shared. They will be in their own age groups this time. Rainbow was a good place for the whole family. “The parents could relax knowing their boys were safe during the summer and having fun with other children,” Reenie said. 

Lenny summarized the entire experience with Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh in mind: “When there is a need in the community, Rainbow Day Camp steps in to meet those needs.” 

Click here to read more stories of impact from the 2022-23 Annual Report.