Our Torah portions recently and this week in the book of Exodus have been focused on the Mishkan, or the Tabernacle, the movable ark and the spot that was known as God’s dwelling place on earth. It seems so fitting that just this past week we welcomed home to Porter Creek a traveling tabernacle of our own: The Little Ambassador ark.
The Little Ambassador has a rich history with Camp Newman and Camp Swig. Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, an alum of Camp Swig and now a longtime faculty member at Camp Newman, was one of the assistants to Helen Burke, a beloved artist who worked with Camp Swig for many years to build the Holocaust Memorial Chapel and other awe-inspiring art that was located at Swig. When our camp moved officially to our Porter Creek site, The Little Ambassador, along with many other pieces of work that Helen crafted with generations of campers, found its new home.
In October 2017 when the Tubbs Fire swept through camp, we thought we had lost the magnificent ark and reading table that were located in our Beit Am as well as the ark at our Beit Tefilah, all of which were pieces Helen had created with so many campers and staff. Miraculously, amidst the rubble of the Beit Am, The Little Ambassador stood and though it was badly bruised, it had endured the fire and its body was largely intact.
Summer 2018, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan worked with our Hagigah and Avodah campers, staff, and faculty to begin the slow but important work of restoring the art. It was beautiful to see our community begin to heal from the emotional hardship of camp burning down through restoring a piece of art that was so closely tied to our history and such a physical representation of all we had lost. We may have lost many pieces of Helen’s work but this small ark, this Little Ambassador, had persevered.
We’re so grateful to Rabbi Wolf-Prusan who then helped ferry the ark to wonderful artists Rhonda Kap and Aimee Golant who finished the restoration. Rhonda, a protégé of Helen’s, had done a good amount of work on the new letters for the ark before her own studio burned down in the Woolsey Fire in 2018. The ark, in another miraculous showing, had already been moved to Aimee’s studio.
Our wonderful artists finished what we know you’ll see as a beautiful restoration and true homage to Helen Burke’s legacy. Walter Johnson was commissioned to build a beautiful wood table for the ark to sit upon and it now is back home with us at Porter Creek, ready to house our scroll from the Czech Republic that was rescued after the Holocaust.
In this week’s portion, Moses blesses the Israelites for the work they did in constructing and contributing to the Mishkan. So, too, we send our blessing to Rabbi Wolf-Prusan and his family for making this restoration possible, as well as the many artists and all the campers, staff, and community members who worked with Helen Burke at some point in our camp’s rich history.
And in only a few months’ time, we will light the Shabbos lights in a pair of candlesticks made my Helen and remember that all we do together – the community we build, the friendships we nurture, and the Jewish camp family that is lovingly built on the shoulders of all those who came before.
Photo: Noah Berger, Specialty to the Chronicle