Our Hearts Are Out West: A Tribute To Camp Newman

The buildings burned down; the spirit lives on

Monday night, I got news that URJ Camp Newman was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Northern California. My heart was broken.

Newman is the place that truly shaped me to be the person I am today. It did what it always tried to do – inspire a love of Judaism 365 days a year. For 18 transformative, memorable and formative summers, Camp Newman served as my sanctuary, my solace, my idea of what happiness should feel like. It’s why I’m in Mississippi working as a Jewish educator today.

You’ll hear many similar things from Newmanites whether they be first time or long time campers. It was a place that changed lives.

I am incredibly grateful that no one was hurt on the campsite—and devastated that the fires have claimed lives as they have consumed other places in the area. Buildings can be rebuilt – people can’t be brought back. Each building at camp houses its own significant memory from my summers there. But what made those memories so special wasn’t just the buildings; more than anything it was the people within those walls.

Camp Newman was and will always be my home away from home. But for some, their actual homes were destroyed by these massive fires. Our hearts are absolutely broken from the loss of our second homes, but they are also breaking for those whose actual homes are gone. Rabbi Paul Kipnes, a longtime family friend and Newman faculty dean writes, “Camp Newman, we will miss you. Camp Newman, we will rebuild. Camp Newman, you taught us that tikkun olam (repairing the world) means we hold our personal pain alongside the pain of others, and try to help them all.”

I started my journey at Newman being pushed up the hills in a stroller. My love of Judaism continued to flourish as my roles and responsibilities at camp began to get bigger. I learned how to be compassionate and empathetic through my experience at camp. That’s what we can use to mourn the loss of our Newman while caring for and comforting those whose homes are gone. This loss is felt even down South, and we’re sending love to all our camp family members this week.

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