Image courtesy of Camp Newman
The devastating wildfires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties this fall destroyed countless homes, including a “home away from home” for thousands of Reform Jews across the country: URJ Camp Newman. A sleep-away summer camp, URJ Camp Newman just celebrated its 70-year anniversary. The camp offers a community for young Reform Jews to connect with their religious identity and create strong friendships.
In the wake of the fires, many members of the Camp Newman community have initiated fundraising efforts to rebuild from the ashes, putting on a benefit concert and selling “Newman Strong” t-shirts to help support the camp in its time of need. A young camper named Avi Shapero led some of these efforts, spearheading a Go Fund Me page that has already raised over $7,000 to save his summer home.
Despite the tremendous damages inflicted by the fires, a survey of the camp revealed some shocking news. A shed full of tallitot and prayer books, as well as a few Torah scrolls, were left completely untouched by the otherwise all-consuming flames. Additionally, the wooden Star of David on the mountaintop overlooking the camp remained intact, visible in an image circulating online showing the camp’s ruins and ashes with the Star of David completely unscathed on top of the mountain. This proved to be very inspiring for many campers, as it was a tradition to climb the mountain and yell “I love being Jewish!” very close to the star. The image of the surviving Star of David reminded many people of the camp traditions related to Jewish faith and proved that these symbols can still live on even through times of destruction and material loss.
Although the destruction of property deeply upset the Camp Newman community, many cited the life-long friends that created their camp experience and community as a physical memory of a place that most people call their second home. Danielle Mahrer, who grew up at the camp and worked there during her college years, found her best friends at the camp. She reflected to Ha’Am that her camp experience helped her build and understand her own Jewish identity.
“It is eerie to think that somewhere we had so many memories and grew up…[that somewhere that] felt like home wouldn’t be there anymore,” Mahrer told Ha’Am.
The wildfires in this community represent the harsh reality that the Torah teaches us: the world is a fragile place. Although tragedy may happen, Camp Newman builds its efforts on Judaism and community efforts to find support and hope in a time of devastation.
Many UCLA and Ha’Am News alumni have attended and worked at Camp Newman, and the Jewish community must show support in this time of need. Even though the camp will not be up and running this summer, Camp Newman released news on Friday, November 3rd that it will continue its tradition at Cal Maritime on the San Francisco bay for the 2018 camp sessions. Campers will still get to immerse themselves in Judaism and feel empowered to contribute to a large community as they put their efforts toward rebuilding hope and the physical properties of Camp Newman.