By Samara Leader, Director of Teen Engagement


For the Camp Newman community, this calendar year has been one of transition, of challenge, and at times, of hardship. When fires devastated the Santa Rosa site in October, it was clear that thousands were struggling with the news about Camp Newman and the greater Santa Rosa community. What emerged from this initial darkness, however, were countless examples of strength, kinship, and exemplary leadership. As I reflect back on 2017, I am so grateful to have witnessed the actions of remarkable community heroes.

Within days of the devastation, the incredible staff at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa opened their doors to families coping with loss from the fires. Led by Rabbis George Gittleman and Stephanie Kramer, and Youth & Music Coordinator Malcolm McElheney, the synagogue ran two weeks of camp for children impacted by theses fires, providing a safe, healthy space for these young people to find an escape from life’s stressors and allow parents to rebuild their lives.

The synagogue, powered by hundreds of volunteers, coordinated phone trees, calling all of their families and mobilizing to provide support for those who had lost homes and businesses. They selflessly supported the community as a whole, serving as living examples of the Jewish values they regularly teach and espouse onsite. Congregations from all throughout the bay area gathered to volunteer and deliver food, gift cards, and other donations to help support the Santa Rosa community. These congregational professionals continue to provide community guidance and support today.

C-Dubb Smash teens at Congregation Rodef Sholom

Just five minutes after the announcement that many of the buildings at Camp Newman had been destroyed, Lara Regev, Rabbi and Educator at Congregation Rodef Sholom, called to offer her synagogue as an alternative space to host the first NFTY Central West event, embodying the URJ concept of Audacious Hospitality. This retreat, which was to have taken place at Camp Newman just 12 days after the fire, suddenly became a much-needed space in a whole new way for teens to gather together. Within just three days of sending out an ask to congregants, Congregation Rodef Sholom successfully secured housing for the 145 teens in attendance. Osher Marin Jewish Community Center and Brandeis Marin School, which also share a campus with Congregation Rodef Sholom, quickly offered additional program space, materials, and transportation for the NFTY teens. Additional congregations, including Peninsula Temple Beth El and Peninsula Temple Sholom, also offered space for this retreat. Congregation Beth Am quickly stepped forward to host the second NFTY retreat on the calendar, with Temple Isaiah hosting in the spring.

Fallinter teens at Beth Am

Community members in the tens of thousands reached out to show their love and support for Camp Newman and the greater Santa Rosa community through social media posts, artwork, poetry, online articles, and donations. Counselors from past summers connected with former campers, providing guidance and a space to listen. Firefighters journeyed from out-of-state to help put out these devastating fires, and some continue to fight the current crop of fires in Southern California.

These examples of resiliency and the power of the human spirit have been incredible to witness. As we enter 2018, may we be inspired to emulate these selfless leaders who have demonstrated the importance of courageous and compassionate action in the face of hardship. For when we all strive to be a leader, a hero or simply our better selves, together we have the potential to make our world a better place in the coming year.


Samara Leader spends the bulk of her professional time and energy focused on mentoring teens and developing teen programming. As the Director of Teen Engagement, Samara’s collaborative Camp Newman and NFTY role allows her to oversee the implementation of year-round teen programming. In this capacity, she meets with youth professionals, educators, and clergy, works to vision new and innovative teen experiences, and supports the NFTY Central West and NFTY SOCAL Regional Directors. She also serves in an integrated role onsite at Camp Newman during the summers.