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When the Sadness is so Deep: After Fires Burned Down Camp Newman Buildings

Dear URJ Camp Newman friend,

I feel such sadness too.

I love that we share a deep love for the life-changing nurturing experience of Jewish camping. (An east coast boy, I went to URJ Kutz Camp, though my wife Michelle grew up at Camp Swig).

We are all grieving separately and together. The loss of this safe place calls into question all the safety we thought was out there. It removes our sense that we can protect our homes, our kids even. It makes us wonder what good is God if THIS can happen. It hurts deep in our kishkes.

We had plans. To get back to camp, if not ourselves, then our kids. We had deeply cherished memories, if not at Camp Newman, than at Swig or Saratoga, all of which which seem lost among the burning embers, along with the sacred artwork and archives of pictures from long past.

We walk through the days, doing what we must, yet alternatively sad, incredulous, in pain, in shock, enthralled in a cosmic WTF!?!?!?

Lots of Emotions – Embrace them All

My friend, embrace all these emotions, for they are real. But they will not break us.  Over time we will weave these scars into a sacred basket to hold our broken hearts.

Look closely. See that the Star Survived

And remember the sacred power of AND – that we can grieve AND we can live. That we can lick the wounds of our loss AND we can still plan for the future. That we can cry AND we can simultaneously chose a corner of our broken world to help repair it. (Remember the work of tikkun olam is the best for the soreness in our souls).

For like the bright white Jewish star that still overlooks over our sacred space that’s Camp Newman, like the small aron kodesh (holy ark) that miraculously survived the fires in what once was the Beit Am, like our very Jewish state of Israel once thought lost to history yet now again reborn and rebuilt, our Camp Newman will be rebuilt and rejuvenated in time for your kids, all our kids, to enjoy the magic that made camp so sweet.

We Jews (and thus our Jewish camp) refuse to be lost. Like the Torah we reroll back to the beginning during Simchat Torah, we Jews will reroll and recreate anew, the Jewish camp home and experience. For our children, our hearts, our souls.

We Jews are Resilient People

Don’t forget that we Jews have within us, bequeathed to us from hundreds of generations past, a resilience, a grit, a spunky unwillingness to be remain in the ash heap of history. We thrive best in a challenge.

Yes, the prophet Jeremiah sat down by the waters of Babylon, as we wept the destruction of Jerusalem and said, “Lo yishama – never again will we hear in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem… of young people singing and at play.” But the Jewish people refused to give up. In fact the rabbis changed two letters – lo: lamed and aleph to od: ayin and dalet – thus changing “never again” to “once again.”  They believed – they knew and they were correct – that our people would renew and rebuild and thrive. And we have. Israel has. And so too will Camp Newman.

And then our tears will dry up. And then the malaise we feel will be long forgotten. And then your children and mine will once again sing and play in the holy hills of Santa Rosa (and learn to love the holy hills around Jerusalem and the holiness of Judaism).

The Star Still Shines

A star shines over those Santa Rosa hills, shining the way home for all of us and for our children. An aron kodesh (holy ark) calls out for Torah, begging that we fill it again with wisdom of the ages. We will get there soon enough.

Chazak chazak v’nitchazek – be strong, be strong and we shall be strengthened. That’s what we say when we finish one book of Torah. Just before we begin a new book, a new chapter in the continuing story of our lives.

Chazak. Be strong, my friend. We will get through this together.


With love,

Rabbi Paul Kipnes
A Camp Newman Rabbi

P.S. Where’s God in all this? Some ideas:

That Time I had it Out with God
Why the Good Die Young
An Open Letter to Teens, Staff and Alumni after the Fire Burned the Camp Newman Buildings

P.P.S. Want to help Camp Newman rebuild?

Click here

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