By Rabbi Steven Chester, Camp Faculty Rabbi and Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Oakland
Last Friday, I along with a multitude of campers, attended my first Erev Shabbat at Camp Newman by the Bay. I had wondered for days before this evening what this first Shabbat would feel like. Would the campers and staff bring in the Shabbat with the joy I was familiar with from both the campers whom I had witnessed first at Swig and later at Newman on Porter Creek Road or will there be a dark cloud hanging over this evening?
By the time the service, singing and Israeli dancing were over, there was no question left—the singing and dancing were super spirited. The passion for Shabbat never waned. The evening was electric. I knew we had found a new home. For the overwhelming majority of campers and staff, Erev Shabbat at Newman by the Bay took its place as being as soulful as those Shabbat Eves at Swig and Newman.
I have been proud and fortunate to serve on the faculty of Swig-Newman-Newman by the Bay for approximately 35 years. Camp is an integral part of my life. It is a place where I can help young people express their love for Judaism and being Jewish. I was sad when we had to move from Swig to Newman and cried when Newman burned down. Two nights ago, I cried again. I cried tears of joy as I watched the young Jews bring the joy of Shabbat into our lives and their lives.
Just a few months after the fire, we had a place for camp and were registering campers. Campers signed up for camp, some first-timers and many who had attended previously. A great miracle happened because we found a camp site and a great miracle occurred last Friday night as the campers returned in spirit.
Perhaps what we already knew but has been reaffirmed even more significantly in the last year and this past Erev Shabbat is that place is not as important as the relationships that camp creates- relationships that cause campers and staff to return yearly to sing, dance, create and pray together in a Jewish environment.
We will rebuild Camp Newman on Porter Creek Road but in the meantime, let us be thankful for the California State University Maritime Academy site which lets us continue to build Jews for the future.