Last night, there was terrible news out of Santa Rosa for anyone that loves Jewish summer camps: “As many of you may have heard, since 10pm last night, forest fires have been burning in Sonoma and Napa counties. It is with tremendous shock and sadness that we share that the majority of the buildings at our beloved Camp Newman home have been destroyed.” (URJ Blog Entry)
I never attended URJ Camp Newman. I spent 10 years of my youth at their competitor and sibling: the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps (Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp) in Malibu. All I knew was that there were two other Jewish camps in California, the Conservative’s Camp Ramah in Ojai, and UAHC’s Camp Saratoga (later Camp Swig) in Northern California. I never knew, for example, that UAHC had purchased land for a new camp, Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, in 1997; nor that they had closed Camp Swig in 2004 moving camp operations to Camp Newman. The reason for the closure of the Saratoga facility was economic: the land was in an earthquake red zone, and the cost of updating and retrofitting the buildings was prohibitive. They moved what camp art they could to the Newman site, and closed the camp and attempted to sell the land (which upset a lot of people). The sale fell through, and I could find no clear information on what happened to that land other than a paywalled reference that it was sold in 2010.‡
But Jewish summer camp is special, and I know the hours I’ve spent worrying anytime there is a fire near Malibu. I remember helping at camp after a fire, and I remember how close fire has come to destroying buildings at camp. I can only imagine the spiritual pain that Saratoga / Swig / Newman campers, staff, and alumni are feeling,
Buildings will be rebuilt. The ground will be scoured for artifacts and art that survived (ceramics and concrete are wonderful that way). There will be a re-sanctification and new energy, and the spirit will return. This summer will see the camp return to pioneer roots for sure, with temporary rougher facilities and a spirit of re-creation for the future generations. Art will show a rebirth through fire, just as the literal fires of the Holocaust were followed by a rebirth of Jewish spirit.
What has surprised me through this, however, is how I have been touched by destruction at a camp I’ve never attended. The larger Jewish Camp family is truly a family: whether CHK or GHC, Ramah, Kutz or Newman, or Alonim, or any of the myriad of camp options, we are all in pain when “camp” is hurt.
I wish the URJ Camp Newman community a refluah shleimah — a speedy recovery. Those financially able to help could visit the camp’s donation page. #NewmanStrong
[‡ ETA: It looks like it was sold to a group called Valley International Academy, but their current webpage puts them in Campbell. That may be an administrative office, because other pages still show them in Saratoga. There is also an Environmental Impact Report and architectural documents for a rehab into some new center by a group called Valley Inception, LLC (which would destroy many of the original cabins) in 2015. They are a technology firm, and as for use, all the EIR says is “rehabilitate an existing camp / retreat facility, Camp Saratoga, through obtaining Architecture and Site Approval (ASA) and Grading. Proposed project scope includes demolishing (9) existing cabins, consolidating and building four (4) new camper / staff cabins, one (1) facility storage building, reconstructing the existing Norris House for administration functions and various site improvements such as installing new parking lot, internal access serving the new buildings, ADA and utility upgrades. […] A similar rehabilitation was proposed by the previous organization, Camp Swig, and approved in 2002. Upon completion of the rehabilitation, subject facility will resume operation hosting a variety of programs in varying durations year-round. Summer programs may be as minimal as days or weeks, while school year programs will be longer. ” Thus, it appears this is now a boarding school.]