beth-am-shabbatBy URJ Camp Newman Camp Director, Rabbi Erin Mason

This powerful drash, was eloquently written and delivered by Rabbi Erin Mason on Shabbat at Congregation Beth Am, the evening before our Camp Newman celebration, There’s No Place Like Camp.

yomsport-cabinDear New Cabins at Camp Newman,

You have no idea what you got yourselves into.
Those walls will hold more tears and laughs in a summer
than an average household in a year.
You will hear the drama between campers,
Between counselors.
You will hear anger
And happiness.
You will watch young children find their place in this beautiful area we call camp.
But most of all, you will see campers understand
Their Jewish identity and themselves.
You will hear the shema echoed in your rooms every night.
You will watch as campers get rocked to sleep when they’re homesick,
Strangers become friends,
Love and understanding.                                                            
I hope you realize what you’ve gotten into.
You could’ve been built on a lake or in the mountains.
But you were built here –
At Camp Newman.
The place where Friendships are formed and life is just details.
You have turned into a home.
A place where campers can find their place in this world,
Where they can bring back lanyards and stones and songs.
Where they can rinse off the dirt from the day.
There is going to be a lot of dirt.
But not to worry –
It’s dirt that is infused with the great times of a summer.

You may become a mess –
But a mess of friendship and love.
Songs will echo;
Your walls will hear the songs of Judaism and friendship
Happily, excitedly sung.
You will become a sanctuary.
A happy home away from home.
Your quiet walls will not be quiet for long.
Enjoy it now.
Soon there will be nothing but cheers and songs,
Tears and laughs,
Joys and sorrows.
You will become a home at last.

This ode to our new cabins was written by Rebecca Dollinger when we built our first set of new cabins in 2013. She wrote of what our cabins hold – all the non-tangibles that make a space a home:

The love,
The memories,
The laughter and the tears
Created by a family.

kids-campsignCamp Newman has been a home for generations. What started out at Saratoga, then Swig, and now Newman, is more than the buildings that house us. The home begins to be built the moment one steps onto camp.

The first building blocks are the relationships

That turn into friendships

That turn into family.

Everything is built on that foundation. But the actual buildings, the physical spaces, are essential. The buildings provide shelter, warmth in the winter and cool in the summer, a place to gather with our camp family, a comfortable bed on which to sleep at night, when the sound of our own breathing is joined by those around us who have become our family.

Daryl Messinger and Jim Heeger have provided the vision and the foundation for Camp Newman to look to the future …

With cabins that will last generations

And a retreat and conference center that will be used year round.

And, in the years to come, a dining hall that will allow all of camp to comfortably share a meal together in the summer

And for multiple retreat groups to comfortably use the space year-round.

Mah tovu ohalecha, Ya’akov,
Mishkenotecha Yisrael.

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
Your dwelling places, O Israel.

These words, found in parshat Balak (not this week’s Torah portion), are spoken by a diviner named Balaam hired by King Balak, who feels threatened by the power of the Israelites. Balaam is hired to curse the Israelites. And in the only story in the entire Torah that has as one of its characters a talking donkey, when Balaam goes to curse the Israelites this blessing forms.

Mah tovu ohalecha, Ya’akov,
Mishkenotecha Yisrael.

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
Your dwelling places, O Israel.

camp mosaic- left

camp mosaic - right

These words are inscribed in the mosaic hanging on one of our cabins, beautifully designed by our visiting artists and crafted by campers. These words speak to what we do at camp.

Our tents, our dwelling places, reflect who we are as a camp and as a Jewish people.

They invite friendship.
They welcome community.
They are lovely, yes, but not only in their structure.
Their beauty reflects all that goes on within and around their walls each moment.

Many of our campers and staff members have so connected to camp that they truly feel that Camp Newman is home. One staff

member articulated it thusly:

For me, home is where you can take 100 showers and never feel 100% clean.
Home is never knowing what the next meal will be unless it’s Saturday.
Home is living with random children who for some reason expect gifts when you come back from
a day off.
Home is working 24 hour days yet somehow always being broke.
Home is where I know my best friends are a few doors down if I need them.
Home is where you spend 10 weeks with the same 2 guys 24/7 (including time off) and never
get sick of them.
Home is where you laugh, where you cry, and where it always hurts to say goodbye.
For me, camp is home.

At Camp Newman, we are blessed to be able to create a Jewish space where people can be their best selves, where people are accepted for who they are, and see that each person around them is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine.

Campers grow into counselors. Jewish values are lived every day. People of all ages are inspired to love being Jewish. The home we create at Camp Newman is built by our entire community – our campers and their families, our staff, our congregational partners, including Congregation Beth Am, home to Daryl and Jim, among other board members and camp faculty, who partner with us for retreats and entrusts upwards of 60 campers each summer to our care. And the greater community, without whom the vision of becoming a true year-round retreat center would not come to fruition.

Together, we build this home.
Together, we build our Jewish community.
Together, we build the Jewish future.

Shabbat shalom.