by Rachel Mellman, Camp Newman Alum & Marketing Associate

Among the towering redwoods, generations of campers have made lifelong friendships, personal discoveries, and everlasting memories. Camp Newman comes from a legacy of tikkun olam, social action – our roots grounded at Camp Saratoga and Camp Swig – and it is a place where all who enter our gates are celebrated for who they are and the potential in each of us to be a force for positive change in the world.  

For 25 years, our community has called Porter Creek Road home, and in November 2017, our beautiful space and surrounding Santa Rosa community was badly damaged during the Tubbs Fire, a devastating result of the local and global climate crisis.  

In the few years away from Porter Creek Road, trees are gone, trails are overgrown, and the lush, green landscape that secluded camp from the outside world now bears the scars of wildfire. However, in our second summer back among the Santa Rosa hills, it was our turn to give back to the space that has given us so much. During Summer 2022, three sessions – Etzim, Rishonim and Hevrah – exemplified Camp Newman’s commitment to tikkun olam in a very real way. 

Etzim – We speak for the trees!
In Etzim 2022, our incoming 6th and 7th grade campers explored the myth of creation and what it can tell us about humanity’s links to the natural world. Under the leadership of Eli Burg, Etzim Rosh, campers were “able to learn about the ecology and natural systems of our Porter Creek home. All towards an ecologically inspired means by which to interact with our inherited tradition and the world around us”. 

As they explored the various creation stories with 21st century eyes and information, Etzim campers also had the opportunity to explore another religion’s relationship to the natural world. Stemming from a set of Buddhist prayer flags gifted to Camp Newman in the wake of the Tubbs Fire, this session sought to understand the spiritual connection these beautiful colored flags form between nature and the Buddhist faith as well as add their own prayers to the chain. Now hanging at the Har Nof, the combined prayers of our campers and the Buddhist prayer flags “[blow] in the wind sending their blessings to all of camp, all our neighbors, all of Sonoma County, and to the whole world”. Read more about Etzim’s summer here. 

From a spiritual understanding of Tikkun Olam to a more hands on approach, our teen camp sessions of Rishonim (8th and 9th grade) and Hevrah (10th and 11th grade) built on the understanding of Jewish values they gained as younger campers to make tangible changes to our camp and the world beyond. 

Rishonim – So much more than trailblazing
A month-long session for rising 8th and 9th graders, Rishonim is known to many as the trailblazing session. Although trailblazing is an integral part of the session’s history,  Rishonim’s connection to nature goes even further: 

This summer we sought to deepen our campers’ relationship to nature. Throughout the session our campers went through four distinct Shvillim or Paths:  

  • Trail Blazing, where they worked to begin a new trail extending from the star towards the ridgeline above it 
  • Trail maintenance, where they worked to rehabilitate the Risho-Dream trail 
  • Ecological Awareness, where they learned to better understand how ecosystems function and our relationship to them 
  • Mindfulness, where they focused on relating to nature in a meditative setting.  

Ben Yanowitz, Rishonim Rosh, had this to say, “Through these experiences, Rishonim campers came to see themselves as integral parts of the ecosystems around them which can be the difference between environmental degradation and regeneration.” 

Hevrah is leading the way
During the second half of the summer, our rising 10th and 11th grade campers in Hevrah took on the monumental topic of the ecological crisis. According to co-rosh Renata Feinstein, “[Hevrah campers] focused on addressing the ecological crisis, which encompasses climate change and other issues affecting our environment. Campers looked at how to respond to this crisis in their daily lives, through legislation, and through community organizing at camp itself.”  

Although the continuing pandemic barred Hevrah campers from taking their traditional trip to Sacramento to lobby California state legislators, Hevrah had an incredible environmental impact on our Porter Creek site. “In the first few days of our Community Organizing Task Force, we identified various problems around camp we wanted to confront, first among these was ensuring that Camp could reduce the amount of waste we generate by composting in the Chadar Ochel.” – Ben Yanowitz, co-rosh.  

Through a careful examination of the barriers to composting at camp and the systems that were already in place, Hevrah campers set out to change the way camp disposes of food. Although there were ups and downs, the Hevrah “composting corner” proved functional and effective when it was implemented during session Dalet. 

Implementing this composting system has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the Hevrah community. Historically, Hevrah has always been externally focused, that is, centering lobbying for bills as the primary means of making change. While this is an important way to fight for social justice, by focusing inward we’ve made much more concrete and visible change.

As Avi Briskin put it: “it’s nice knowing that we’re actually making a change and that we pushed for this and made it happen…we have the ability to make a change like that.”

Hevrahnik, Aaron Wolf-Bloom shared, “This project has shown how us teens can come together and accomplish real change and see it before our very eyes. It helps us reduce waste and make the world a better place.” Learn more about Hevrah’s summer in Hevrah is Leading the Way blog post 

At Camp Newman, our campers learn to understand, explore, and implement Jewish values into their daily lives. During summer 2022, there was no finer example of this process than the ecological and environmental programming of Etzim, Rishonim, and Hevrah. From the spiritual inspection in Etzim to the hands-on efforts of Rishonim and Hevrah, campers explored not only why Tikkun Olam is such an important Jewish value but also how they can make practical efforts to incorporate it into their lives. 

Thanks to the wonderful campers in these sessions, and in every session touched by their programming, we know that our space at Camp Newman and the world around us will be cared for and protected by Tikkun Olam.