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The Reform Jewish Movement and the California Reform Jewish community in particular received devastating news last night upon learning that the physical location of URJ Camp Newman, our Reform Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa, CA, was all but destroyed in the wildfires currently ravaging the West Coast.
In the early morning, Camp Newman staff announced on social media that the camp had been evacuated and that all staff were safe, as were the camp’s Torah scrolls. Rabbi Paul Kipnes, a congregational rabbi who also serves as the camp’s faculty dean, shared his original prayer, “A Prayer for Those Affected by Fire” – and the waiting began.
By nightfall, it became clear that Camp Newman's physical location had fallen victim to the fires still raging in Napa and Sonoma counties. Just before 8pm EDT on Monday evening, the camp shared on Facebook a post that read, in part, “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.”
Though the destruction made headlines in The Forward, JTA, & The Jewish News of Northern California, it is the personal words from Reform Jews worldwide that bear the real emotion behind the news. From California and beyond, camp alumni responded with sadness and grief, sharing their memories of Camp Newman and how their time at camp has made a lasting impact on their lives.
Former staffer Jay Bartell, who is now a synagogue youth advisor in San Diego, writes, “URJ Camp Newman shaped the core of what I consider to be the best parts of myself”:
Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert writes,
“Camp proves that places have emotional energy… though it is the people who occupy the places who create that energy, and who will move forward despite physical destruction by fire, to rebuild and make that energy stronger than ever. Here’s to the forever touch of camp.”
Fellow Newman alum Amy Herman posted about the incomparable power of the camp community: “What is a community? Have you ever been part of one? I've been part of a few, but none as impactful as the URJ Camp Newman community.”
Former camp staffer Alex Rogers echoes Herman’s closing sentiments, writing, “While the physical property may be gone, it does not mean that Camp Newman is gone…Tonight, across the world, Camp Newman exists in thousands of homes.”
For all those mourning their beloved camp home, Cantor Lizzie Weiss shared “A Blessing for Those Who Love URJ Camp Newman,” in which she writes, “Let us remember that we still have our memories, that we still have our pictures, and that we still have one common goal, and that is to infuse a shelter of peace over our hearts and the future Newman generations.”
Out of Woodland Hills, CA, screenwriter Seth Front reassures the grieving: “Know that we are determined to rebuild and there will be nothing to stop us... [We]urj.or will rebuild. Take strength in this. We are strong. We are unified. We are committed. We are #NewmanStrong.”
It’s a reassurance spoken by so many in the Camp Newman community. In his newest prayer, “Upon Waking from the Fires: The Sacred Power of ‘And,’” Rabbi Paul Kipnes closes with the following words:
"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.
"So we will.”
Ken yehi ratzon, may it be so.
Read this story about the camp's plans to rebuild, then learn how you can donate to help URJ Camp Newman. Stay tuned to this space and to the camp's social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for ongoing updates.