At Camp Koby, a summer retreat for children who have lost a relative to terrorism, kids are invited to talk, heal and just have fun with others sharing similar experiences. The sounds of children at play surround young Daniel Mandell as he takes a break from a ropes activity to sit in the shade. Talking to him for just a few minutes is enough to realize that this tall and slender red-haired 14-year-old has maturity far beyond his years.
"I'm very proud of my parents," says Daniel about Seth and Sherri Mandell, co-founders and co-directors of the foundation and camp which bear his brother Koby's name, "Not every parent could do this kind of thing in memory of their child."
Koby Mandell, 13, and his friend Yosef Ishran, 14, were stoned to death in a cave on May 8, 2001, while hiking near their homes in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. Seth Mandell says he and his wife decided to create the Koby Mandell Foundation and Camp Koby when they realized that their family, "felt more comfortable in the presence of other people who had lost a close family member."
At the beginning of the month, Camp Koby launched its second annual 10-day summer camp for kids aged 8 to 17 who lost a parent or sibling in a terrorist attack. This summer there will be four camp sessions, conducted during July and August. The first camp, for children from ultra-Orthodox families, was held for boys at Kibbutz Negba and for girls at Kibbutz Sde Yoav, both just outside Ashkelon. The following sessions, for boys and girls together, are being hosted by Kibbutz Negba.
With parents still enrolling their kids, Seth Mandell says that he expects last summer's attendance of 250 children to be more than doubled this year. This summer the camp has added a new division, for children who were themselves injured in terrorist attacks, and for children whose relatives were injured, not killed, by terrorists.
Camp Koby, which also meets for three weekend retreats during the school year, is offered free of charge to participants, with the help of donations from various American foundations.
"A lot of people don't know how to approach these kids," says Sherri Mandell, a writer, who notes that enabling the children to openly discuss their emotions can be a "freeing" experience for them. Sherri Mandell's book on her own ways of dealing with her loss, The Blessing of a Broken Heart, will be published in September.
"You can talk to [kids at camp] much more seriously than to the kids when you're at home," says her son Daniel, "Each kid here has their own tragedy, so everybody understands each other."
Seth Mandell, an ordained rabbi who immigrated with his family to Israel in 1996 from Silver Springs, Maryland, explains that the idea of Camp Koby is to bring together children who have suffered a personal tragedy to have fun, and to help them express their feelings.
"Camp gives them an opportunity to be as comfortable as possible and to be more like themselves, because they are in an environment where everybody has experienced the same thing," he says.
At camp, children are encouraged to express themselves through various creative workshops in art, drama, and dance. In one workshop last summer, kids were asked to choose and decorate their own puzzle piece. When they put the puzzle together, there was one piece missing, symbolizing their loss.
"The idea is to create a safe place for them to talk about - or not talk about - the loss or trauma that brings them to Camp Koby," says Jackie Goldman, coordinator of creative art workshops at the camp.
"If they open up, fantastic, but we are not here to be their therapists," says 19 year-old Ariel Deitcher, one of the 100 camp counselors chosen from nearly 400 applicants, "These kids have no other expectation than to go to summer camp and have fun."