(Chabad.org) A Chinese auction and comedy evening drew community members together in S. Clarita, Calif., to support a Jewish camp named for a man who helped start it all.
The Ned Miller Camp Gan Israel of Valencia gives children who want to attend the Chabad-Lubavitch run summer camp the opportunity to spend six weeks with their Jewish peers. Miller strongly believed in the idea that financial concerns shouldn’t stand in the way for kids who wanted to be there.
Rabbi Choni Marozov, who moved to the area 14 years ago and co-directs Chabad of the S. Clarita Valley with his wife Frumie Marozov, remembers Ned and Lori Miller calling more than a decade ago to ask about an area summer camp for their grandkids.
“We told them we didn’t have one yet,” recalls the rabbi. “And they told us they were going to help us put together a camp; whatever it takes.”
The camp took off, and grew from an opening class of 16 kids to its average attendance of 100 children aged 4 to 11. The program even expanded to try and help other cities that wanted camps of their own.
The Millers traveled frequently to bring their grandkids to camp, going hours by train on Sundays and back again on Thursdays to make sure the kids could have the experience.
“His passion was that he recognized the value of a Jewish camp and how much these children gained from it,” says Marozov, adding that Ned Miller – who passed away two years ago – got tremendous pleasure from his grandchildren coming home and talking to him about keeping kosher or lighting candles on a Friday night.
In fact, every time he heard about a camper who wanted to light Sabbath candles or saw a camper with a yarmulke, he was proud.
“That’s really what made him happy,” says Marozov.
The Millers would help out with the kids, and were even spotted playing musical chairs when the counselors stepped away for a meeting.
“They gave it all they had, they were constantly there, they knew every child by their first name,” details the rabbi. “And Ned would go on all the trips on the bus. He’d put on his camp t-shirt and get on the bus and sing the songs.
“He was just the life of the Chabad House,” he adds. “Everybody who knew him knew him as a kind-hearted, compassionate, and fun-loving man. He had a good and tremendous heart, and everybody felt they were his friend.”
As part of honoring his memory, the Chabad House is working to give every Jewish child in Valencia the opportunity to have this summer experience. The recent fundraiser, held at the Embassy Suites in Valencia, was part of that effort, offering locals the chance to mingle, contribute, and win prizes.
Tracy West, a parent who volunteered with the auction, says she was glad to have the chance to help raise money for the camp, especially as tough economic times have meant a lot of the parents can’t afford the full tuition.
“A lot more families are asking for more scholarship help,” she points out.
The camp is something she’s glad to support and see grow. Her children, Rebecca, 10 and Spencer, 8, have been attending for the past five years, and look forward to going back. As always, she hopes they have the “best summer ever,” and looks forward to seeing their excitement as they connect with friends and counselors over the six weeks they attend.
“It’s one of the few opportunities they get in our community to be around other Jewish kids,” she explains.
For her part, Lori Miller recalls how she and her late husband decided to support the camp in the first place. Their grandchildren lived nearby at the time, and by joining them on their summer outings, Ned Miller became the unofficial “Zayde” of the camp.
The children they trekked up and down through California to bring to camp, she notes, value their Jewishness; one’s even headed to the Maccabi Games as an athlete.
“I wanted them to identify as Jewish, and they do,” she says, adding that her granddaughter’s friends call her “Bubbie.”
“I appreciate it so much because my husband loved it so much,” she says of the camp. “He loved singing the songs. He was a camper.”