Image courtesy URJ Camp Newman

One Year After The Fire

The buildings burned down... but the spirit lives on

In October of 2017, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Camp Newman burned down in the Santa Rosa fires. I wrote a reflection on my time at Camp Newman, noting in part: “For 18 transformative, memorable and formative summers, Camp Newman served as my sanctuary, my solace, my idea of what happiness should feel like.”

A year ago it was hard to fathom the idea of anywhere else having the same kind of effect on me that Camp Newman did. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to even think about it.

It’s not easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re mourning the loss of something so special. Eventually I had come to terms with the fact that “the buildings burned down; the spirit lives on.” I was thrilled to see how successful summer 2018 was for Camp Newman. The Newman team found a temporary home for the summer at Cal Maritime in Vallejo, CA, and boy did they run with it. Summer 2018 transformed Camp Newman into “Newman By The Bay.” The strength of the Newman community didn’t diminish because of the tragedy.

Even with the happiness for the success of Newman By The Bay, I still believed that I would never find the same sense of a camp home that I did growing up. That place was gone. Fast forward one year after Newman was destroyed to summer 2018. Among all of my summer travels, I was able to serve as faculty for about a week at another URJ camp – Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, TX. I was intrigued by the day-to-day flow in comparison to Camp Newman. For starters, the incredibly hot weather makes an impact on GFC’s options for programming spaces – most of which are indoors. Like any camp, GFC and Newman have different meal time traditions.

During my week on faculty at GFC, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of homesickness – home, in this case, being Camp Newman. A GFC alum and coworker of mine, Harrison Bleiberg, took a walk around camp with me. I had been on several GFC tours before but this one was different. I got to hear all about Harrison’s memories at each of the different spots around camp.

Hearing all about Harrison’s time at camp really got me thinking about my time at Newman. While the “homesickness” was still very prominent, I began to feel a sense of comfort and familiarity. Although I was at GFC and not at Camp Newman, I felt as though I was at a relative’s house – not my “real” home, but a place created to emulate the feeling of home. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I realized that my time at Camp Newman not only taught me the value of my Judaism, but also how to adapt to and appreciate other Jewish spaces around me. It’s easy to feel a sense of homesickness, especially in a case like this. But more so, it is incredible and awe-inspiring that my Jewish camp experience really showed me what it means to be home.

Camp Newman was and will always be my summer camp. But I am grateful for the impact that Jewish summer camp as a whole can have on people no matter where they get to experience it. One year later, while I’m still sad for the destruction of the physical camp where so many of my formative experiences took place – more than anything, I’m grateful to always carry with me the spirit of my Jewish camp.

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