When you’re staying at a resort smack dab between mountains and a river, it’s hard not to be inspired. Just ask 21-year-old Brazilian native Marcos Skibelski.

Eight years ago, he joined a condensed summer camp run by Centro Novo Horizonte, a Chabad-Lubavitch community center in S. Paulo focused primarily on providing meaningful Jewish experiences to children and teens. Last month’s camp – located in the tropical resort of Socorro – marked his third year as a returning counselor.

“In Brazil, many kids get lost. They don’t know sometimes that they are Jewish,” said Skibelski, a student at the University of Haifa in Israel.

But in Socorro this year, a young boy asked Skibelski to teach him the Shema, a proclamation of G‑d’s unity prayed by Jews at least twice a day.

“That doesn’t have a price,” said Skibelski. “No salary can pay that.”

Directed by Rabbi Noach and Pessy Gansburg, the Centro Novo Horizonte has been holding the all-boy six-day camp sessions chock full of sports, river rafting and inspiring religious discussions for 12 years. This year marked the second time that a separate gathering was held for girls as well.

A System That Works

According to Noach Gansburg, many of the counselors were like Skibelski, having been involved at the center from the very beginning.

“Some were with me 12 years ago as campers,” said the rabbi. “From kid to camper to counselor – it’s a system that works with these youth.”

Skibelski’s cousin, José Eduardo Edelstein, said that the camp “is amazing.”

“It’s something different,” said the camper-turned-counselor. “We combine Judaism and nature in a manner like no other camp.”

Edelstein, whose first encounter ever with a rabbi was when Gansburg met him six years ago, noted that campers came from all different socioeconomic backgrounds thanks to the generosity of Centro Novo donors. One rule summed up the philosophy of the camp, he said.

“If you’re a Jewish kid, you’re invited,” stated Edelstein.

A teenage boy practices his prayers during a bus trip.
A teenage boy practices his prayers during a bus trip.

One of the summer’s highlights, said counselor Ricardo Adissi, was a celebratory feast of a camper, who after learning about the ritual circumcision mandated by the Torah, consulted with his parents and decided to undergo the procedure as an adolescent.

As for the outdoor activities, which included hiking and repelling, 13-year-old Ilan Goldman, had nothing but praise for the camp.

“It was great traveling and everything,” said Goldman. “It was really, really cool!”

The girls’ camp was similar, but had a few special touches.

“The girls did all the sports that the boys did,” said Gansburg, but the programming emphasis was on the spiritual responsibility inherent in being a Jewish woman.

One workshop, she said, saw the girls make their own Shabbat candlesticks; the girls learned to make challah in another.

During the year, Centro Novo Horizonte offers a host of activities, from Mommy and Me gatherings to Girls’ Night Out parties on Saturday nights. In addition, Pessy Gansburg gives cooking classes for mothers before each Jewish holiday, “to help them bring the holiday into their homes.”