by Greg Kellner, Director, URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy
As I sit and write this email, I am currently on a plane returning from San Francisco, after a day with my colleagues at Camp Newman, our URJ camp in northern California. A little over 2 months ago, their beloved site of 20 years at Porter Creek, CA was destroyed in the Tubbs fires in Napa Valley. Luckily, camp was not in session and every person on the property were safe. In the days following the fire, there was an outpouring of support from the local community, the Jewish community, and from people around the globe. More than 80 buildings burned to the ground, leaving just a shadow of this beautiful camp. While I never visited the camp at Porter Creek, I, along with many of my colleagues and peers empathized with the devastating loss, recognizing how we’d feel if this happened to the places we call our summer homes. Donations came (and keep coming) in from campers, families, friends, strangers, and others who wanted to help Camp Newman rebuild. The response was of astronomical proportion, and I also asked, “How can I help too?”
A little over a month ago, Camp Newman announced Camp Newman by the Bay, where they would host their summer home for summer 2018. The Cal Maritime Academy would now be the site of camp. I reached out to Ruben and Erin, the camp’s directors, and offered to help with any insight into how to transform a school into a summer camp. So yesterday, I had the chance to do this, meeting with their professional team and the team at Cal Maritime to offer a bit of what I have learned in the past 10 years with our URJ camps.
All along, the Newman team, has said that camp is a community and is not tied to a particular place. They have said that Camp Newman exists and is strong, despite the loss. I could not help but think about our own people living in the diaspora, where the Israelites were forced to leave their home and settled across the world. In the diaspora, the Jewish people remained a strong people and created strong communities, tradition, and culture, some which changed over time and others that have remained constant for thousands of years. Many Jews (including all of us here in the U.S.) still in the diaspora find meaning, a deep love of Judaism, and ways to make the world a better place through a Jewish lens. At Camp Newman by the Bay, children will continue to do this and still create lasting friendships, build self-confidence, and foster their love for Judaism, and they will be doing it all by the sea in Vallejo, CA.
Yesterday, with the Newman team, I had the opportunity to help in a unique way. I accompanied the staff at Newman in answering the question (and asking lots more) “how do we create an enriching community while still maintaining the familiarity of Jewish summer camp?” Prior to Sci-Tech, I served as the Assistant Director of both Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, and after 6 years was given the opportunity of a lifetime to launch a new Jewish community, 6 Points Sci-Tech. From the moment I stepped foot on our beloved site, the Governor’s Academy, I knew it was a match, and I also new that bringing the most important elements of what I loved about camp would be essential to camp’s success and a challenge I was willing to take on. In our first year, we made sure that signs around camp indicated to children that they were at Sci-Tech and not just another school, we created other signs that reflected camp’s values and decorated everything to be uniquely Sci-Tech. While this made the space feel like our own, it was not until camp was filled by the sounds of laughter, singing, and cheering that it was in fact camp. It was the moments we created together that showed the strength of community. It is times with arms around one another, sharing highlights of the day at bedtime, welcoming Shabbat all in white, skits of Hebrew word of the day, and more that helped shape the fabric of camp. Five years later, campers and staff return for our familiar traditions and rituals. I know that at Camp Newman, this too is why campers will return, because they yearn for the comfort and love of this community.
I also witnessed yesterday the essence of audacious hospitality, as more than 25 members of the Cal Maritime administration warmly welcomed Camp Newman staff, faculty, and lay leaders to celebrate the beginning of a new relationship. The college’s president kicked off the day with a cheer “What time is it?” and everyone enthusiastically shouted “MARITIME!” and followed by recognizing that this was the start of a unique and meaningful friendship. It was clear that every member of the Cal Maritime team was committed to the success of Camp Newman by the Bay, from the director of IT to the head chef, and everyone in between. The director of residential life got very excited about the idea of having a gaga pit on campus (a favorite of ours too), and the food service department even helped us all feel a little bit more at home by hosting a beautiful spread that included latkes, kugel and rugelach among other wonderful treats (Note to Newman campers: You are in for some AMAZING food this summer).
The excitement in the air was palpable and as I looked around the room, I witnessed partnerships and friendships beginning to form, between a college vice president and a local rabbi, between the director of conferences and camp’s assistant directors, and between the police chief and the camp director. There was a shared commitment among all to developing today’s youth into tomorrow’s changemakers. Rabbi Erin Mason, the Director of Camp Newman, closed the day by asking both the Cal Maritime staff and the Newman community to link arms and join in Shehecheyanu -the blessing that thanks God for enabling us to reach a certain moment- marking the start of Summer 2018’s Camp Newman by the Bay.
To get involved and help Camp Newman plan their future, visit www.campnewman.org and make a gift online. Your gift will help secure the future of Camp Newman in a time of need and continue to grow our Jewish future.