Although URJ Camp Newman was held in a university setting instead of its former home in the mountains of Santa Rosa, California, this year, the camp feeling is alive and well, by all accounts.
Campers may be staying in dormitories instead of cabins, “but it still feels like camp,” said Cantor Ross Wolman of Temple Chai in Phoenix, who recently spent a week at the camp with his family.
“Camp is the people, not the space,” he said.
After a wildfire destroyed most of the camp’s facility in October 2017, Camp Newman needed to find a new location as they prepare to rebuild. This summer’s interim location is California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, which includes a view of a bay rather than a forest.
Wolman and his wife, Malka, serve on the camp’s faculty and visited the two dozen or so campers from Temple Chai, about the same number who attended last summer.
Camp Newman has “created a wonderful experience” for the campers, Wolman said, and accommodations are being made to provide the campers the same activities they had at the Santa Rosa site by taking them off-site when needed.
Jill Bloom, a member of Temple Chai, has two daughters who recently spent their second summer at the camp.
The camp and the Temple Chai community were instrumental in helping campers prepare for the new location, Bloom said, which led to discussions “about how camp was not a location, camp was a feeling and camp was the people. … We spent a lot of time talking about that concept.”
Last fall, shortly after the fire, Rabbi Mari Chernow of Temple Chai, who spent summers at the camp growing up, hosted a gathering in her home for Camp Newman campers, staff, faculty and parents in order to help campers process the camp’s loss.
They continued this communication in the months that followed.
The majority of the campers from the Greater Phoenix area are from Temple Chai in Phoenix; Temple Solel and Temple Emanuel of Tempe are also represented.
Rebuilding the camp facility will be a long process, said Alaina Yoakum, the camp’s director of marketing and communications. The camp will likely return to Cal Maritime next summer. The majority of the camp’s buildings were destroyed in the Tubbs fire, including a $4 million conference center that had been dedicated about a year earlier
In June, Camp Newman received a $5 million grant from the state of California to help rebuild. The camp is also accepting donations for its wildfire relief fund, #CampNewmanStrong, at campnewman.org.
“When you’ve come so close to losing something, and realize that you still have it, there’s a lot of power in that,” Yoakum said. “The kids and the faculty and the staff all appreciate camp even more than they ever have.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ president, summed up the camp’s experience: “It’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning of the next chapter.’” JN