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Upon waking from the Fires: The Sacred Power of “And”

Santa Rosa CA: before and during the fires

And those whose lives were shaped by URJ Camp Newman went to sleep saddened by the loss of our formative home away from home, where “Camp is life and the rest is just details.” We wake to a shaken world. We know we will rebuild. It will be different but soon enough it will be filled with the magic and holiness that camp inspires, uplifts and shapes in us. And we take comfort that camp staff are safe and our sacred Torah scrolls are safe.

Im ein ani li mi li – if I am not for myself, who am I, said Rabbi Hillel.


Let us now expand our hearts to hold onto the depth of the devastation and the pain beyond our beloved camp gates. Huge swaths of homes have been destroyed, many for people who will not as easily rebuild. Devastation of whole cities and towns. Innumerable lives turned upside down as furniture and beds, school projects tucked what we thought was safely away and baby pictures – whole homes and everything in them – were destroyed by fire. Let our hearts break for them too. Especially for them.

Uchsheani l’atzmi ma ani – but if I am only for myself, what am I, said Rabbi Hillel.


We are a people who have always risen from the flames to shine the light of tikva (hope) and l’chaim (renewed life). Let our personal pain commit us to help also those who lost their homes, schools, communities, everything.

We can do both because we do “And.” Our hearts can hold it all: Camp Newman AND Santa Rosa, the fire areas of Northern California AND the fire areas of Southern California. The devastation in Houston AND in Florida AND especially in Puerto Rico. the big areas AND the lesser known parts. The losses from fire AND the losses from shooting AND the losses from economic disparity AND the losses from racial hatred AND … We can hold it all. Because we do “And.”

Because the Holy One gave us hearts that break AND love at once. Now. AND. Always. V’im lo achshav aimatai – and if not now, when, said Rabbi Hillel.

Camp Newman, we will miss you. Camp Newman, we will rebuild. Camp Newman, you taught us that tikkun olam (repairing the world) means we hold our personal pain alongside the pain of others, and try to help them all.

So we will.

Will you?


  1. Jacque Gagin says:

    I am more than willing to help AND I will cook, provide clothes, household items….whatever is needed. My email is listed below.
    Please contact me if I can help.

  2. Robin Movich says:

    Rabbi Paul,
    My kids (Ron Movich & Randi Movich) both went to Camp Swig many years ago when Rabbi Jim would spend time during the summer. My Grandson, Josh, went to Camp Newman several summers ago. It’s so sad to hear about the devastation and loss of life that the fires are causing.
    I am currently visiting in Israel as I write this.
    I hope that you and Michelle and family are well.
    Robin Movich

  3. Judy Heim says:

    My heart breaks for all the loss of this horrendous event and the loss of Camp Newman. New Camp Newman will live and your message was very hopeful and meaningful. Thank you for your insight and expressing so much of how we feel.

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