Home » Blog » Ethan Goes to Camp Newman: Mainstreaming Kids with Special Needs at Jewish Summer Camp

Ethan Goes to Camp Newman: Mainstreaming Kids with Special Needs at Jewish Summer Camp

Meet Ethan through the eyes of his Mom:

Since his diagnosis of autism at age 2, we have worked hard to “mainstream” our son Ethan into everyday activities, schools, sports teams and social situations. At times it has been a struggle for him and for us wanting him to be a normal kid. With a lot of hard work on his part, as well as with the help of a team of behaviorists, speech therapists and a lot of supportive friends and family members, Ethan has blossomed into friendly, outgoing, and independent almost 13-year old.

With his Bar Mitzvah service less than 6 months away, it seemed almost natural for him experience sleepover camp. Thankfully, and with the blessing of our Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Erin Mason (Associate Camp Director at Camp Newman), this experience became a reality for him (and us) this past summer, as he spent two weeks at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA.

Kvell with Ethan’s Mom about Ethan’s fantastic experience at URJ Camp Newman:

August 2012

Dear Camp Newman,

My son, Ethan Epstein, was a camper in the first session of the summer at Camp Newman in the Tzofim eidah (unit). You probably remember that we spoke in the spring about his enrollment this summer, as Ethan has special needs that may have been a concern. My husband and I felt that he was more than ready to attend overnight camp and were thrilled with the opportunity for him to attend with his friends from our congregation as well as with Congregation Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes and his family.

Needless to say, the experience was more than we ever imagined. From the minute we arrived at the airport (he flew with the camp delegation from Burbank) to the minute he stepped off the plane on his return, the entire experience was a HUGE success! Ethan loved every minute that he was there, and has already informed us that he is planning to attend for a MONTH next year!!!

I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without letting you know how much I thank you and your wonderful staff at Camp Newman. While it is always our hope to integrate Ethan into mainstream situations, we are aware that sometimes certain accommodations need to be made, and we thank you for that. Our goal was for him to make new friends, gain independence, and mature in a loving and spiritual environment, and he achieved (and surpassed) all of these.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for a wonderful and successful overnight camp experience. We look forward to next summer at Camp Newman!

Shalom, Ethan’s Parents

Reform Judaism – especially the Union for Reform Judaism – has a long history of working for full inclusion and openness for people with disabilities and special needs.  

Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA has long been committed to accessibility for individuals with special needs and their families. Our Brandon Kaplan Special Needs Fund helps us integrate people with special needs and their families into all aspects of our congregation. We are also the synagogue for  Chaverim, a program of Jewish Family Service, for developmentally disabled adults, age 18 to 88.

URJ Camp Newman has a dedicated Nefesh team comprised of psychologists, therapists and social workers who are at camp all summer. The Nefesh team helps the counselors and roshim (unit heads) integrate and support all children with unique situations (including emotional, physical, psycho-social and other “special needs”).


  1. Brandon says:

    I had the privilege of being Ethan's counselor this summer at Camp Newman. From the moment I first met Ethan, I knew that Camp Newman would be a great environment for him to grow. It was great to see him gain independence and leadership skills.

    Ethan was never afraid to help at Camp Newman. He would always volunteer to help clean the table at meals and lead night time cabin activities. He always wanted to help lead the Birkat Hamazon at the end of meals. He even performed in the session's talent show!

    Ethan easily integrated within the camp community. Many of his friends, who I believe were from his synagogue, would always say hi and include him in various activities. I remember watching him making friendship bracelets with another cabin during free time.

    Reading this blog post really shows that Camp Newman was such a positive choice for Ethan. It really was a pleasure to have Ethan in my cabin. I am glad that he had such a memorable experience and can't wait to hear how he will grow in summers to come.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *