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Camp Is Where the Heart Is: Reflections from Opening Day

Camp Is Where the Heart Is: Reflections from Opening Day

Posted on June 22nd, 2018

Our 9th and 10th grade Borgrim campers reuniting at Opening Day.

Just 251 days after a wildfire destroyed our Santa Rosa home, Camp Newman welcomed our first of over 900 summer campers last Sunday. The optics were different at our temporary location of Cal Maritime – no star on the hill, no favorite camp spaces (yet), and lots of water and palm trees. Yet the sounds, energy, and people were all the same – and all equally jubilant for the summer ahead.

Throughout the two-hour arrival time, we stopped and asked our campers, parents, and staff: How do you feel about this momentous day? Here are their responses:

(And read more in J Weekly’s article on our opening day here.)

Rabbi Allie Fischman, Associate Camp Director, URJ Camp Newman

“My heart has been incredibly full, and my mind has been racing with excitement for all that’s to come. I know that we’ve found a place that can truly be home. Home is where we feel safe, where we feel comfortable, where we can be our best selves. And I know that this summer promises great things for our community.”

10th grade Hagigah campers – who’ve all been coming to camp for 8-10 years each: (left to right) Jesse Brandt, Riley Hartman, Maya Torgersen and Judah Hoffenberg

Judah Hoffenberg, Camper, 8th summer

“It shows an indescribable amount of resilience that the camp community can’t be broken up by something we can’t control.”

Ruben Arquilevich, URJ Camp Newman Executive Director

“On October 9th, the Newman community, along with the broader Jewish and faith community worldwide, suffered an unpresented loss. Tens of thousands grieved the destruction of their ‘home’, where they laughed, loved, danced, prayed and played with their best friends, discovered and celebrated their best selves, secured their Jewish and spiritual identity and lived the ideals we seek for humanity. Over the past 250 days, through the tears, hugs, songs, poems, endless expressions of support, we have arrived to this miraculous ‘shehechyanu moment’ – when we will chant from the depths of our souls ‘We Love Being Jewish’ and celebrate being together as a camp community again.  I cannot wait to witness the beauty, blessings, joys on the faces of every child, young and older adult as we continue the 70-year camp legacy – starting today – of enriching lives and the world through immersive Jewish living.”

Rabbi Stephanie Kramer, Camp Faculty Rabbi
Rabbi Kramer’s congregation, Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, CA, had over 30 congregants who lost their homes in the Tubbs wildfire.

“When we drove into camp, the CIT started singing Haveinu Shalom to us and my kid started screaming and singing the song in the back seat of my car. Meanwhile I’m trying to keep them from seeing the tears just rolling down my face. It was the moment I realized, we’re not going back – we’ve lost camp. And yet, I’m so happy to be in this temporary home. The spirit is here – and that’s what matters. Everyone is happy, excited, and it’s gorgeous!”

(Read more on her reflections on her blog, “The Glass Is More than Half Full!“)

Nathan Kertz, CIT, 11th summer

“I think it’s telling that the first question from campers isn’t “where am I staying?” or “where are my bags?” It’s “where are my friends?” It’s not the old camp, but we can make it camp. It’s amazing that our community stayed together and found such an incredible place.”

Rabbi Erin Mason, Camp Director, URJ Camp Newman

“To see campers and staff singing and playing and dancing together on our Kikar to hear Haveinu Shalom to new campers as they get off the bus, seeing the hugs of campers and staffers reuniting, reinforces what we’ve known all along – that camp is where the heart is, and our heart is here now.”

He told me, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, mom, but if I could live here all year, I would.’

Counselor Zachary Crenin suggesting a game of Frisbee to his new campers.

Jordan Klein, CIT, 8th summer

“I feel like I am carrying on a really important legacy. As CIT, we are always the first people campers see. It feels so special to us to be welcoming them [singing Haveinu Shalom Alachem] and inviting everyone into this new phase of camp. And we’re personally setting the bar really high to give them an amazing time here and that’s a really cool feeling.”

Maya Torgersen, Camper, 9th summer

“I just can’t stop bouncing!”

Wendy Brauner, Camper parent

“I’m super excited and a little bit nervous about the location but so happy that my kids are returning to camp. The camp has been a really important part of my kids’ childhood and our synagogue’s community at Congregation Emanu-El. For my older soon, I’ve always tried to get him to do different things than camp. I told him, ‘I did Israel when I was a kid.’ And he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You could go to a different country or get an internship,’ and he said, ‘No.’ He recognizes that camp is unique and the only place like it to have this experience. He feels like camp is home. He told me, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, mom, but if I could live here all year, I would.’

Counselors, Mishlachat (Israeli staff) and CIT lead our new campers in some Israeli dancing.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasis, CA
Camp Newman Faculty Dean, 21st year at camp, former camp director and longtime youth professional

“I was anxious about whether the camp staff and leadership would be able to make the transition from holding camp at our Santa Rosa site to create in Newman by the Bay a warm, loving, caring community of friends, fun, and Jewish joy. But now that I’m up at Newman by the Bay, I have seen that this URJ Camp Newman staff and leadership rocks! Like the older 12th grade CITs and 11th grade Avodanikim, I was welcomed when I arrived with great big hugs and hearty ‘welcome back’ wishes. Instantly I felt like I was home again.

Camp is camp is camp is camp.

A refreshingly chalutznik (pioneering) spirit greeted me when I arrived. This Newman staff feels like a cohesive cohort of creativity. They have been simultaneously flexible with the changes the camp location brings and totally committed to ensuring that this summer will feel like the best summers in Santa Rosa.

Camp is camp is camp is camp. Location is only one part of the process. This staff, in just a short time, has convinced me that this summer will be awesome.“

(Read more of Rabbi Paul’s words here: “I Was Anxious About Going to Summer Camp“)

Michelle Tandowsky, Advisory Board Chair, URJ Camp Newman

“I feel full to bursting. I have such gratitude to the professional team, the community, the parents, the kids – everyone who has worked hard to get us to this day. It feels really, really good. I have so much confidence that we’re going to come back better than ever to our Porter creek site and reestablish our beautiful Jewish space for the Jewish community for the next 70 years.”

Counselors greeting their first campers of the first session!

Dr. Roberta Berg, Camp Doctor
First year as a Camp Doctor and Santa Rosa resident. The Tubbs wildfire came within 8 feet of her home.

“I used to be a camper years ago when it was the Camp of Living Judaism, years before Camp Swig. I started in a leadership session when I was 17. Look at everyone – dancing and singing. The spirit is truly here.”

Nancy Biegel, Camper parent

“When I dropped off my daughter at camp, I got that same familiar feeling of understanding that she’s going to be in a place that is so loving and so beautiful. That part feels familiar but obviously the optics are different … It’s not Santa Rosa … [but] the magic of camp is still here.”

Rebecca Sculler, CIT, 8th summer

“Today is the first day of the new chapter of Camp Newman and I’m so glad to be a part of the community.”

Krysta Kasinski, CCEP. Director, Conference and Events, California State University Maritime Academy

“It’s been such a joy working with the URJ Camp Newman staff. Our very first conversation happened last October so to see it all come together now feels incredible.”