A year into the pandemic, we are still finding new and creative ways to bring Camp Simcha activities which have always been in person – into the virtual world.

Normally at this time of year we take families away to a hotel for a four-day retreat over Shabbat and have lots of fun with outings, games, activities, entertainment and speakers for parents.

Aside from the fun which the whole family has, retreat is also a much-needed period of respite that many of our families do not otherwise get. They look forward to it all year.

While we couldn’t run a normal retreat this year we were determined to give our families that would normally attend this, that vital respite and emotional boost, so we held our first ever virtual retreat instead.  Over forty families with seriously ill children, from London, Manchester and Gateshead joined us for a four-days packed with fun and designed to cater to each and every family member’s ages and needs.

On the Thursday morning before retreat began, every family received three large boxes, packed full of arts, crafts, games and everything they would be using over the four days, including Kiddush and Havdalah sets and Shabbat candles.

This caused huge excitement in every household and began the build-up to retreat families always enjoy so much.

We also sent in every meal and tableware, so that families could take a rare opportunity to enjoy a complete break from the daily pressures they have to cope with in addition to the relentless stress that their child’s medical condition brings.

Activities over the four days included canvas painting, escape rooms, bingo, games, children’s entertainment and parent activities. For Saturday night we did Havdalah and sent in glow sticks and a chocolate fondue set, then streamed a concert with performances from Shloime Gertner, Eitan Freilich and Avi Kraus, as well as a magic show.

The feedback from families has been amazing, with them telling us what a lift it gave them and how they really felt like retreat came to them.

As one parent wrote: “Although we felt we would miss this year’s retreat terribly you made us feel that we were actually there in spirit. The non-stop delivery on the first day of exciting packages and food got everyone in an amazing mood from the start.”

Nothing beats being able to be together physically, but we still managed to share in something very special collectively.