West Coast Party Jr. – Welcoming and Celebrating Diversity

By: Ruben Arquilevich, Executive Director

Over the past several days, over 200 6th through 8th graders from all over the Western U.S. and 75 young adult staff celebrated community, friendship, the joys of Jewish living and Jewish learning at our now annual West Coast Party Junior. It was a weekend full of camp reunions, making new friends, experiencing Shabbat, competing in sports, appreciating nature, having adventures, doing arts & crafts, and making music – all guided by an enduring theme of “Dreaming” in honor of Martin Luther King and his pivotal “I have a dream” speech. Campers decorated the banner you see at the top of this article with their dreams for the world, like “Stop Inequality,” “Love 4 All!” “World Peace” and “Equal Rights.”

A huge kol ha kavod – job well done – to Directors Rabbi Erin Mason, Allie Fischman, Mikey Latner, Christine Reiter and the phenomenal staff they assembled. For a glimpse of the weekend, check out the photos and videos at the following links: CampInTouch, Facebook and Instagram.

Social Justice Programming is one of the pillars of Camp Newman’s summer and year-round experiences, reflecting a priority of the Union For Reform Judaism (URJ).  Walking around camp yesterday, I paused to notice this beautiful mural created by Hevrah (our social justice camp).


It reminded me of the transformative programming that Camp Newman creates and the yearning and striving for a better world; it’s an honor to do our part and we’ll always strive to do more. Below is an article I wrote about some of the social justice programming that takes place at Camp Newman every summer:

Proud of Avodah March in Pride Parade

100+ Avodahnicks (our rising 11th grade service and leadership camp), along with their staff and faculty, are spent the day marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade. They represent a legacy of Camp Newman Avodahnicks joining our brothers and sisters in San Francisco to support the rights of the LGBTQ community as well …as all of our rights. I am so proud of them as they represent Camp, the Jewish community and humanity in making strides on one of our last civil rights frontiers.

Last night, they spent several hours, up till 1 a.m., preparing themselves spiritually for this sacred act of solidarity. They shared each other’s stories and listened to what is at all of our core – the desire and need to be fully accepted, unconditionally, regardless of our differences. A parade contingent is fundamentally about representing a cause, message, or belief in front of a diverse audience of Parade-goers. Parade contingents generally organize their contingent’s look around some central theme: celebrating self, celebrating diversity, standing against LGBT discrimination, speaking out for one’s ideals, honoring LGBT history, recognizing friends and allies, or standing for a loved one lost.

The parade and its mission is a wonderful illustration of one of Camp Newman’s most precious pillars – Betzelem Elohim, the idea that we are all created in a divine image; that we all have inalienable gifts; that we all have a role and purpose on this journey called life. Betzelem Elohim is one of Camp’s top songs, written by Danny Nichols, who spends two weeks at Camp Newman every summer and many days throughout the year. It is one of our governing principles as a year-round camp community and retreat center. Our camp culture not only welcomes diversity but we celebrate it and recognize that it is part of our key to success.

In building leadership teams over the decades, I have come to understand the great value of casting – in insuring that the team is diverse – varied styles, interests, communication approaches, strengths are critical for building a balanced team to serve a diverse community. As our Avodahnicks march each year, I wish for them to savor every moment and to recognize a unique moment in their life. They might march in many Pride Parades, but this is their one time in their life as an avodahnick. May they absorb the full meaning and transformation, for themselves and the community.