Around the Campfire #2
In this installment of Around the Campfire, we hear from Rabbi Julie Bressler, camp and staff alumna, and currently a Rabbi at Temple Sinai – Oakland:

While I attended URJ Camp Newman and Camp Swig as a young child and teen, my most formative camp experiences took place as part of Geza and Shoresh, the senior staff teams at Newman, during my summers of rabbinical school. As a Rosh Eidah (Unit Head), Director of Teen Camp, and Education Director, I had the awesome opportunity to spend entire summers at Newman and be part of a team creating meaningful experiences for campers and staff of all ages.

Over those years, I absolutely fell in love with Jewish camping and witnessed many moments of camp magic. Whether it was watching teens sing their hearts out at session songs, observing younger campers bravely climb the ropes course for the first time, or seeing counselors who once were campers bless their own campers on Friday night during Newman’s beautiful Hashkiveinu ritual, camp is a place where so many of us can be our best selves. These summers filled my spirit and made me so proud to be part of the camp community. After finishing rabbinical school, I served a pulpit in Massachusetts, where I found a new camp home at URJ Crane Lake Camp. I was lucky enough to enjoy two awesome summers as a faculty rabbi and got to experience a new camp with different yet familiar traditions.

When I returned to California to work at Temple Sinai in Oakland in 2022, I ensured that time at Newman as education faculty was written into my contract. Like many of our campers, I counted down the months and days until I got to drive through the gates of camp and hear the words of “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” once again.

My role at camp as education faculty is very different than as a summer director (I definitely don’t miss the constant calls on the walkie talkie and appreciate that I get to eat meals without 50 questions coming at me!), yet all the positive feelings are the same. I now get to sit back a bit and watch the magic of camp unfold before me – from congregants waving a quick hello as they race between activities to former campers and supervisees taking on new roles as camp leadership. I love getting to partner with the next generation of songleaders as they develop creative and innovative ways to connect the campers to Jewish prayer and spirituality and lead Limmud (learning) sessions with our teen campers as we tackle big Jewish questions through interactive modalities like “The Torah of Ted Lasso” or “Mussar in Pixar.”

Even though it’s been five years since I last spent significant time at camp, it has truly felt like coming home. The hand motions for prayers at Tfillah and the moves to Israeli dances came right back, as did the powerful sense of Kehilla Kedosha, holy community that is unique to being in the camp “bubble”. I feel blessed that camp continues to be a significant part of my rabbinate and I already can’t wait to come back. Thank you to camp leadership for ensuring that so many of us Jewish professionals get to come back home to Porter Creek Road and be part of this sacred community each summer.

Rabbi Julie Bressler and Rabbi Emeritus Steve Chester with a group of Oakland Sinai campers