Having just served as a command post against one of the devastating forest fires that blazed across California, Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Coast's mountaintop campus at Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs is preparing to welcome children to its upcoming ski camp. According to organizers, the mini winter-camp session is the perfect time for children to explore their Jewish identity while enjoying a wide range of winter sports and alpine activities.

Flames from one of last month's fires skirted the edge of the camp, which became a base for firefighting operations.

"Having this magnificent campus survive such a terrible natural disaster shows that this land is truly blessed," said Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of Chabad operations on the U.S. West Coast. "Ski Camp is a wonderful opportunity for young people to get away from the craziness of the city, breathe the fresh crisp mountain air, participate in fun winter activities, and learn more about themselves and their heritage.


"The chance for a child to spend time surrounded by our rich Jewish tradition is such a blessing," he added.

Nestled in the S. Bernardino mountain range between the resort areas of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, the 70-acre Running Springs campus provides a unique woodland setting to let children explore the great outdoors. Its guests room in contemporary dormitory-style cabins.

Camp director Rabbi Gershon Sandler said that many kids look forward to the skiing opportunities at Running Springs.

"I'm a former ski instructor and wanted the campers to be able to take advantage of my training and discover what skiing is all about," said Sandler. "But it's not just about sports. The campers will have a great time, make new friends and learn a little something about themselves too."

With an emphasis on safety, experienced instructors teach the children all about skiing and snow boarding. Ice skating, sledding and snow tubing are also available. Ropes courses teach the campers team-building skills that promote cooperation and confidence. Local naturalists will also lead activities and walks into the countryside.

The CGI Ski Camp, which will run from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1, will be split into individual six-day sessions for girls and boys in grades three through eight.

"These six-day mini winter sessions are a good opportunity for a child to experience being away from home and build their independence and self-confidence," stated Sandler. It "becomes a stepping-stone for children and parents who are considering a longer summer session. It also gives children the chance to have reunions with other campers and spend time with the friends they made over the previous camp sessions."