Written by Robin Kopf
On October 9th, many of the buildings at the site of URJ Camp Newman burned down due to the Tubbs Fires that tore through Santa Rosa, California. Although the site of Camp Newman was only 20 years old, camp had just celebrated their 70th anniversary, which started out as UAHC Camp Saratoga in Saratoga, then UAHC Camp Swig also in Saratoga, and then finally URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa.
Most of the buildings were completely destroyed. The dining hall, most of the cabins, the infirmary and welcome center, the vineyard, and the main programming buildings on camp were gone in just a few hours. Along with the buildings that were cherished for the memories made inside their walls, memorabilia that was brought to camp for the 70th anniversary celebration that happened on camp this past summer were also lost, including old murals painted on planks, photos, and art made throughout the years at Camp Saratoga, Swig, and Newman.
For many, Camp Newman was more than just a place; it was home. It was a place where so many kids laughed, played, sang, and prayed surrounded by a community of close friends. It was the place where you learned how to throw a frisbee. It was where you ate tater tots until you couldn’t move. It was where you faced your fears and climbed to the top of the tower with your friends cheering you on. It was where you learned to stay hydrated and put on enough sunscreen. It was where kids clad in white sang and danced on the basketball courts to bring in Shabbat. It was where you put your arms around your friends and sang Sh’ma and Hashkiveinu to close out every exhilarating day before dreaming about the next one.
The loss of the buildings of a place that so many people called home for the summer was heartbreaking to many that were affiliated with camp, whether as children or adults working there. A glimmer of hope comes from what did survive the blaze, which includes the sign at the entrance of camp, some old cabins, the pool area and water slide, a shed full of prayer books and shawls, and the white, wooden Star of David that overlooks camp.
Camp Newman was an amazing place that inspired so many kids to connect with and grow to love Judaism, but it is not meant to be written or spoken about in the past tense. The 70-year legacy camp has built was not and will never be lost to the flames. It is important to remember that while the site of Camp Newman will never be or look like what it used to be, it was never fully about the physical places that camp has been that has made it so special. It was always about the community of people that made it a second home. The cabins, the dining hall, and the programming buildings were not what kept kids begging their parents to sign them up for next summer, it was the friends and memories they made there, the new experiences they had, and the lessons they learned not just about Judaism, but about life.
Memories, friendships, song lyrics, dance steps, jokes, bonds, and life lessons cannot and will never burn. Camp Newman as the place it was will be sorely missed, but Camp Newman as a community is not going anywhere and never will.