by DEBORAH BLACHOR
Wednesday, July 16th, 2003
KIBBUTZ NEGBA, Israel - Laughing boys toss bright-colored inflatable
balls at one another in a pool nestled amid lush trees and blooming flowers.
The fun under a searing-hot sun could be a snapshot from any summer camp,
except for one big difference - every one of the 150 campers has lost
a close relative to terror attacks.
"Usually, it's hard for me to relate to other kids," said Efraim
Zana, 16, whose brother was killed by a Palestinian gunman last year.
"But it's easier for me here. We all had the same experience, and
you can talk to each other about it."
Camp Koby, in its second year, was founded by Seth and Sherri Mandell.
It is named for their son, who was 13 years old when terrorists snatched
him and a friend off a hiking trail 15 miles south of Jerusalem and beat
them to death in a cave in May 2001.
The Mandells, who immigrated to Israel from the U.S., say running Camp
Koby has eased their pain and helped scores of children deal with their
"When Koby was killed, we needed to be around others who had lost
a child," said Sherri Mandell, 49, a writer who grew up on Long Island.
"These kids are the same. They need to be around other kids who have
experienced a loss like them."
Sports and therapy
The camp in southern Israel offers sports and other activities, as at
any other camp. But there are also grief therapists and counselors who
are trained to deal with loss and anger.
Most of all, the children heal alongside others who know their pain firsthand.
"No one pities you here. We are all equal," said Gidi Biran,
17, whose father was stabbed to death 12 years ago.
The Mandells discovered the need for a place such as Camp Koby when they
sent his younger brother, Daniel, to a camp in Pennsylvania a few months
after the murder.
Instead of enjoying the idyllic camp, Daniel called them in tears.
"He said, 'I'm watching boys Koby's age playing basketball, and I
keep thinking how much he would love it here,'" said Seth Mandell,
53, who grew up in Connecticut.
The former college administrator admitted that the camp's success is bittersweet.
"There is a great sense of satisfaction to create an environment
where these kids can be themselves," he said. "But there is
a constant undertone of the reason we are doing this: Our son was killed."