Koby Mandell
Koby MandellKoby Mandell Foundation

The Koby Mandell Foundation, founded by the parents of terror victim Koby Mandell who was murdered in the early days of the Second Intifada, sponsors special post-trauma camps for kids aged 8 to 17.

Arutz Sheva spoke with Rabbi Seth Mandell and his wife Sherri, who together founded the group in honor of their murdered son and launched the organization’s main project, Camp Koby.

“Camp Koby is our flagship project,” says Rabbi Mandell. “There will be two different sessions with two different groups of Israeli kids in each session.”

“This year we are actually having three camps, including a special two-day session we just had over Hanukkah vacation and a three-day vacation at the end of March before Passover.”

This is the first time in a few years the holiday sessions have been open, thanks to a special grant from an anonymous donor. The holidays themselves can be one of the more critical times to have therapeutic programs for victims of terrorism or trauma, says Sherri Mandel.

She noted that "kids can find it especially tough during the holiday seasons to cope with tragedy. They see other families where everyone is coming together and cannot help realizing that someone’s missing.”

The proper environment is also critical to enable kids to garner something out of the sessions at the camps, explaining why Camp Koby chooses to offer four different sessions in the summer.

“One session is just girls. One session is just boys. The other two are mixes of boys and girls, but one is for mainly secular kids and the other for religious ones,” explains Rabbi Mandell. “Comfort level is a huge element of that, primarily for the parents in choosing where to send their kids but also for the children themselves. Healing takes place where the bereaved children are the most comfortable.”

Sometimes that might happen in male-only or female-only environments, at other times with a mixture. 

When asked if kids’ preferences changed based on the age group, Rabbi Mandell did say that was the case, remarking with a small laugh, “the mixed camp certainly becomes more popular with the boys as they grow older.”

Beyond the group of kids who will be spending a week and a half together over the summer at the camp, which is located at Kibbutz Yehiam near Nahariyah, the activities they have might vary based on the group and the age. While certain therapies like art therapy might be more appealing to younger kids, there are different forms of creative art therapy that are being employed at Camp Koby.

The therapy sessions are led by students from the Social Work program at Haifa University, who benefit from first-hand experience in therapies they are learning in their studies. The partnership has been very instrumental in diversifying the experience at Camp Koby, according to the Mandells. The therapy serves as a means to an end.

“We have a lot of creative arts therapy but it is more of the sort that I would call ‘therapy light,’” says the Rabbi. “What is more important to us is that, after their daily activities and the therapy sessions we offer in the afternoon, in the evening these kids know that Camp Koby is an open space where they can talk if they want to.”

“When they are hanging out with counselors later, this stuff tends to come out in a more natural way. We don’t force anyone to say anything because we feel that as time goes along they will feel more comfortable. Immersion in this environment will being kids to the point that they want to talk, but it is entirely up to them.”

The Mandells said the therapies offered include dance and music therapy. “Drumming loosens kids up a lot more. Bibliotherapy might ask kids to take a look at a picture and make up a story around it. It is more a reflective therapy than direct.”

Beyond the therapy sessions, which make up a small portion of the program, kids tour Israel and go kayaking, to waterparks, amusement parks and other places. What is critical in Rabbi Mandell’s mind is that “playing is also a type of therapy. If one our kids lost his brother and sees that another kid in the camp is playing and having a good time, he can say ‘hey. I can have a good time too.’”

Sixty people will be running on behalf of the Koby Mandell Foundation in Friday's Jerusalem Marathon, including the Mandells in the 10K. You can visit their website to sponsor one of the runners.