Guest Blog by URJ Camp Newman Faculty Rabbi – Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue
Whenever I arrive at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa I gaze up at the Star of David on a hilltop and know that our family has returned to its summer Jewish spiritual home. The massive pine trees, the crisp breeze in the morning, the warm days and gorgeous sunsets mix with the sounds of Hebrew songs and Israeli dance to create an amazing Jewish environment.
Camp is a living laboratory of Judaism. From creative reflections on prayer to teamwork in the gaga pit, from the zip line to a chalk service, from sitting with a group of kids discussing tough choices to wild Frisbee games, from the kibbutz to the cabins, camp helps the children who are here – and the young adults who are their guides and counselors – to grow as people and develop their Jewish souls.
Here, campers and staff live in a community where each is cherished and all ascribe to the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim – that we are all created in the divine image. No one is left out, no one sits on the bench, everyone has a friend.
Here, kids develop their independence and self-reliance. When I grew up in Beverly Hills I could go to play down the block, come home three hours later and none would worry. Our world today is different: parents need to feel secure about where their kids always are. Camp allows children the freedom to explore in a safe outdoor place and learn a sense of responsibility for their actions.
Here, all live their Judaism in community, understanding the connections to other Jews and to Israel. Almost fifty Israeli staff are here hanging out and playing with the kids, creating warm bonds and building relationships. Whether you’re the sole Jewish kid from Redding or live in an area like ours with loads of Jewish people, camp provides a 24/7 happy and healthy Jewish immersion.
And when I leave through the gate I see a drawing of a sunrise with the words “Mah Tovu – How Goodly Are Your Tents, Oh Jacob.” This is a holy place where hopes rise and where kids learn to be themselves. How good is that?!
For 31 summers, Rabbi Morley Feinstein has been coming to URJ camps, where his four children have grown up. Rabbi Feinstein was raised on the Westside of Los Angeles and attended Beverly Hills High School. He attended the University of California, Berkeley where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors. Ordained in 1981 at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Rabbi Feinstein served as the assistant and first associate rabbi of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas. From 1987 to 2002, he served as senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El in South Bend, Indiana. During his tenure there, he received Indiana’s highest citizen honor – The Sagamore of the Wabash – from its governor for his efforts in promoting peace and justice. Named a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Feinstein brings his deep commitment and passion for Torah, filled with energy and a zest for learning. Rabbi Feinstein is the President of the Southern California Board of Rabbis. He is married to Dr. Margarete Myers Feinstein, with whom he has four children.