When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have heard this expression countless times in my life, and it is incredibly fitting for URJ Camp Newman for summer 2018.
Last October, after many years in operation along Porter Creek Road in Sonoma County, a majority of Camp Newman’s buildings were engulfed in the Tubbs Fire. Quickly after the depth of devastation was made clear, the board and staff persevered to make sure that Summer of 2018 at Camp Newman would happen. Campers eagerly awaited the news of an alternate location. Finally, the announcement came via an email with a video clip featuring Camp Director Rabbi Erin Mason. Camp Newman would take place at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo. It would be known as “Camp Newman by the Bay.”
So many concerns and questions arose. Vallejo? Where will we be sleeping? What about the food? Where will tie-dying be done? Will we have places for all the usual activities? What about cabin time if there are no cabins? It was clear Camp Newman’s newfound spot had big shoes to fill. While this location clearly was not Porter Creek Road, we were assured by camp staff that it would be a great summer.
While many approached with caution, Camp Newman by the Bay appears to have surpassed everyone’s expectations. Staff did an excellent job with all the details with identifying alternative locations for camp activities at the Cal Maritime Academy. The Beit Tefillah for Friday night services which once sat on a beautiful redwood-studded hillside in Sonoma County was now on the lawn along the water overlooking San Pablo Bay. The Chadar Ochel where campers gather to eat and socialize found itself in the campus dining hall overlooking the Beit Tefillah area and the bay. Instead of cabins for 8 to 12 campers, there would be college dorm rooms. The Kikar, another large gathering area, would take over the school’s quad complete with music and Israeli dancing on Shabbat and session songs on Saturday nights.
Aside from the task of working out new locations for Porter Creek Road activities, my heart has been most dazzled by the ruach (רוח), the wind, breath, or spirit, of the campers and staff. It is not the buildings or location which has made Camp Newman such a special place but it is all of the people who have shown up for camp and for one another following such a devastating event. Campers have come together to learn, to celebrate, to connect, and to grow under the thriving backdrop of Judaism. We are reminded how life comes with many varied experiences. Campers this year are encountering firsthand how they can have resilience and find love and healing in their Camp Newman community.
It is going to be a long road to recovery for rebuilding Camp Newman at Porter Creek Road in Sonoma County. Witnessing the remarkable ruach of the entire Camp Newman community, I am assured that all will be well. In the meantime, we will keep on enjoying the lemonade.
Deanna Stilwell is a member of Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale, California where she has involvement with Or Rishon Women. She is a volunteer Nefesh (mental health support) faculty person at Camp Newman. This is her third summer at Camp Newman.