By Rabbi Nancy Wechsler, Congregation Beth Shalom


URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California is paradise. It is paradise for our Jewish kids from 3rd grade till 12th grade. It is paradise for our High School graduates serving as staff and specialists. And I must tell you, it’s paradise for rabbis.

I want to share with you an excerpt from my colleague Rabbi Paul Kipnes who wrote the following piece called, “Why you should send your rabbi to summer camp.” He writes:

“Want to enhance your synagogue?

Then send your rabbis, cantors, educators and youth professionals annually to work at a Jewish summer camp. Not as vacation time, but as a one to two-week professional development and personal renewal work experience. Your clergy and staff will come back refreshed and renewed. Your congregation will benefit from new creative ideas, inspiring music and energized staff.”

I have been coming to Camp Newman for over a decade. Prior to being on faculty, I was blessed with the opportunity of participating as a camper, then counselor, then song leader for over a decade at the previous Northern California Reform Jewish Summer camp in Saratoga, known as Camp Swig.

There was nothing like the experience of living freely, creatively and joyfully during those summer as a camper and to this moment, nothing like the experience of serving here as faculty.

Perhaps it is because this summer I visited Poland and Germany including the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz culminating in officiating for a Bat Mitzvah in Berlin that has expanded my awe of what happens at Camp Newman.

This summer I was assigned to a session whose theme was joy. Among a myriad of programming, we looked at Hassidic joy as a connection to G-d. The kids danced, painted and made chocolate chip Challah as an expression of happiness. Another day, they linked joy to giving and tie-dyed some sixty onesies for various shelters in the area.  Every day, in addition to swimming, art, hiking, Frisbee, mountain biking, and zip-line, the children discover joy within Judaism.  Needless to say, it is an incredibly happy session.

Just this morning on my walk from cabin to dining hall, I witnessed a song leader leading a “Pool T’fillah,” services with all the teens sitting on the edge of the swimming pool. The theme was about conquering fear and with each prayer they would put a little more of themselves into the pool. By the last prayer, all the kids were in the water.

It turned out that the song leader himself was traumatized by swimming pools and had not jumped into the deep end of a pool since the age of 7.  With encouragement at the closing song, he jumped into the deep end pool with all his clothes. The teens broke into singing the Sh’hechianu (the blessing said for new experiences) in harmony. Just another glimpse of camp.

Camp Newman has updated to a brand new, state of the art facility. The beauty of the vineyard, rolling hills and spirit remains the same, but the buildings and thoughtful landscaping are breathtaking.

When we say L’dor va’dor, from Generation to Generation, I believe the best way to live that message, is to send our kids to Camp Newman. When you choose to honor or remember a loved one, please consider camp scholarships for the future of our people.

With blessings from paradise, Camp Newman.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler