As one of the biggest blizzards in decades hammers states up and down the east coast, dumping 20 inches of snow in some cities and with winds upwards of 60 mph, Chabad Houses from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania have been forced to rethink, reschedule, and in some cases, cancel many activities of their annual Gan Israel winter camps.

"Our counselors are coming from Brooklyn," informs Rabbi Motti Grossbaum of Chabad of Stony Brook in New York, where amidst 16 inches of snow its 5-day winter camp is set to start Monday morning. "What is normally an hour drive for all the counselors is now a two-and-a-half-hour drive. So we're debating whether or not we're going to start a little later or finish a little later, depending on the snow conditions."

With 40 children enrolled at the camp—most of them from the surrounding Long Island public schools—Grossbaum, along with his wife Chaya, have organized a week-long schedule packed with indoor swimming, arts and crafts, a Mad Science party, moon bounce and karate.

"Even before the storm, I told all the parents that 'Camp is coming in with a storm,'" jokes Grossbaum of all the planned camp fun. "Now it really is coming in with a storm, and we're sure that storm will bring in lots of Jewish enthusiasm."

Sunday night, the storm waylaid Camp Gan Israel counselors headed from New York to Chabad of the Main Line in Pennsylvania. What should have been a 2-hour trip turned into a 5-hour roadblock.

"The counselors are now hunkering down at a Best Western in New Jersey," reports camp director Rabbi Mendy Cohen. "Right now, we're trying to get them kosher food from the Chabad House in Cherry Hill. Whether we start camp tomorrow depends on whether or not we can get them here on time."

Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of Friendship Circle, an organization that caters to special-needs children in the Jewish community, plans to make the most of the December storm.

"[Sunday] we had about 70 children and 100 teen volunteers," he says of Allie's Camp, a Friendship Circle–sponsored camp in Livingston, New Jersey. "For the families, it's very important to give their children structure during vacation time from school. The camp gives these kids the same opportunities that other kids will have. We cancelled camp for Monday, but we're going to resume on Tuesday. And I'm sure the camp will be a lot of fun for the kids. The snow will just give it more flavor."

The biggest blizzard in decades affects activities at Gan Israel winter camps on the east coast.
The biggest blizzard in decades affects activities at Gan Israel winter camps on the east coast.

For some, the fresh fallen snow is more of a novelty than a nuisance.

"We don't get snow in Houston, so this is a very big treat for my son," says Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Chabad of Uptown. He and his 8-year-old son, Mendel, were in New York for Mendel's birthday and set to fly back Sunday when their flight got cancelled. They are spending the next few days with friends in Crown Heights.

"We're making the most of it," continues Lazaroff, confirmed for a flight departing Wednesday night. He then adds with a laugh, "My son says this must be what it was like for the Chassidim walking around Russia in the deep snow."

When back in full swing, many of the Gan Israel camps plan to take full advantage of wintry, windy Mother Nature.

"We'll just have to make the other days double fun," says Cohen with an enthusiastic pitch in his voice. "We will absolutely have fun activities outside. We're going to be creative. We won't be having a snowball fight, but we may build a Jewish snowman. We can build a snow mechitza, candlesticks. We can put a kippah on the snowman's head. We can have a whole minyan of Jewish snowmen."