Israel’s Jordan River Village: Making A Beautiful Difference In The Lives of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Children

UPDATE 6 pm Israel time Monday:

Dozens of illegal migrants–from south Sudan, Nigeria, China, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast– have been detained throughout the  country this afternoon in advance of possible deportation.

Earlier in the day, a horrendous case of graffiti was discovered at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. Numerous slogans praising Hitler and the Nazis were apparently painted on buildings by members of the ultra–orthodox (police suspect Neturei Karta–the same sick anti-Zionist religious group that goes around the world attacking Israel in every venue, and denying the Holocaust at Ahmadinejad’s annual Holocaust denial convention in Tehran).


Kids at the Jordan River Village beside a rock climbing wall.

What can you say about the Jordan River Village–except that it is the most wonderful place on Earth for thousands of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim kids suffering from cancer, neurological disorders, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and a myriad of other chronic diseases. 

It is the only place in the Middle East where seriously ill children of different religious backgrounds can go for a week of arts, sports, drama, and swimming under constant 24 hour medical supervision. Opened in August of 2011 at a function hosted by President Shimon Peres, the Village is nestled among 61 acres of land in the Galilee region of northern Israel.

The Jordan River Village mission is simply “to enrich the lives of Jewish and Arab children, in Israel and in the neighboring countries, suffering from serious illnesses and life-threatening conditions by creating free, fun-filled, memorable, empowering, medically sound and safe camping experiences.”

Founded in 1999 (it took eleven years to purchase the land and build the facilities) by a grant from Connecticut immigrants to Israel Marilyn and Murray Grant, with a Board now chaired by actor Chaim Topol, JRV has a paid staff of fifteen–and hundreds of volunteers. In fact, the Jordan River Village is part of the worldwide chain of SeriousFun camps.

At the JRV: where spirits soar like balloons in the sky.

SeriousFun’s CEO Katia Citirin describes that from 1999 to 2011: “Before we had our site in Israel, we sent eight groups of children to a [SeriousFun] camp in the States. Each group typically had four Jews and four Arabs. The father of one Arab girl was extremely worried about how she’d cope. She wasn’t fluent in Hebrew, let alone English. When she got back, he told us she had a fantastic experience. He said that if we would leave the problems of the Middle East to the children, we would have had peace long ago.”

At the Jordan River Village

In a recent interview, Citrin discussed the philosophy that encompasses the JRV:

“Our motto is, ‘I am not sick; I have a disease.’ And our new public relations campaign theme is about celebrating life. Nobody is forced to participate in any activity, yet here’s no possibility of failure in our camp. Whatever you do, you succeed at. We have an adventure park with climbing walls, ropes and other challenges. Children support other children and encourage them to do these activities. If a sick child can climb a six-meter wall, she feels she can do anything.”

One last thing: where did the original idea for SeriousFun and the Jordan River Village come from? From the American actor Paul Newman (a self-described “Jew” whose paternal grandparents Hannah Cohn and Shimon Newman immigrated to the U.S. from Poland and Hungary respectively)–who started his Hole in the Wall Camps in Connecticut back in 1988. Slowly the Hole in the Wall camps morphed into SeriousFun.

The good that Paul Newman inspired and funded both through his other philanthropy of Newman’s Own–and through such projects as SeriousFun is incalculable.

You can visit the website of the Jordan River Village here–where you can also sign up to be a volunteer. What have you done for Israel today?

(Thanks to Israel 21st for details in today’s blog).

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