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Camp Koby Offers a Special Place for Children of Violence to Grieve
by John Yang

Eilat, Israel, Dec. 9, 2002 -- As they romp on the beach at this Red Sea resort, or hike in the Eilat Mountains, they could be any schoolchildren anywhere enjoying a holiday break.

But these are Israeli children, aged 9 to 17, who have a special bond - one they wish they did not have: Each has lost a mother, father, sister or brother in the Intifada - some of them more than one.

They spent Hanukkah here in Eilat at Camp Koby, a program of the Koby Mandell Foundation, named for the 13-year-old boy stoned to death by Palestinians in a West Bank cave near the Teqoa settlement where his family lives.

For most of the campers, this program is the first opportunity to meet someone their own age who has suffered a similar loss.

"I feel they're going through what I went through," Pesi Roth, 10, says of her fellow campers. Pesi's sister, Malka, then 15, was one of the 15 people killed in the bombing of a Sbarro restaurant in August 2001."I feel closer to them. I think they understand me better and I understand them better," she said.

Seventeen-year-old Yotan Hamami's father, Amiram, was one of 29 people killed in the Passover bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya last spring. Amiram Hamami was the hotel's manager; Yotam was upstairs playing backgammon with a brother at the time of the explosion. "My friends at home, they can talk with me and they can try and understand," he says. "But they never will, because they have never been there. They'll never know what I'm going through. The other guys here - they know. They feel the same."

Yotan says being with these friends gives him strength to deal with his loss.
"Mostly in the evenings, when we are along in our rooms, we talk, one to each other," he says. "And we tell all the troubles we have. And it helps to solve those problems."

Koby Mandell's American-born parents, Seth and Sherri, started the foundation as a way of trying to cope with their son's death and help others like Koby's sister and two brothers. "We want to make these people feel special in a positive way," says Seth Mandell, an orthodox rabbi. "We want to make them look back on their loss and have, instead of total darkness, a little bit of light."

"When you bring them together, they're not alone," says Sherri Mandell, a writer, "and they don't feel different. They don't feel guilty if they're having a good time."

There is no similar camp for the thousands of Palestinian children who have lost family members. In fact, this is the only program of its kind in Israel. "The ethos in this country has been to go on, keep going," says Sherri Mandell. "We feel it's really important to stop and say, 'We're not going on. We're going to feel the pain of this loss.'"