Finding miracles among the ashes

Camp Newman fire
Camp Newman’s new $4 million Welcome Center, dedicated less than a year ago, was lost in last week’s wildfires. Photo courtesy of URJ Camp Newman

I can’t stop thinking about all of those affected by all the recent natural disasters, with so many lives and homes lost from hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. When my mind starts worrying about any of our family’s current challenges, they seem so minor compared to what so many people are going through right now and try to shift my perspective.

This past week, I wrote an article for the Phoenix Jewish News about the destruction at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California. Camp leaders had to wait several days after the camp was evacuated before they could return to the camp to access the damage. I spoke to one longtime camper – he was 9 when he started as a camper there and this past summer was a counselor for the first time. He said the people he met at camp are now his best friends who he considers as close as family. (Read the Jewish News story here.)

Despite the fire’s damage to the camp – including the loss of a $4 million new Welcome Center that was dedicated less than a year ago – the message from the camp’s leaders, staff and faculty is that it’s the people that make the camp such a special place and a treasured community. In Jewish communities around the country this week, those who were connected to the camp gathered to share stories, songs and memories.

When Camp Newman’s executive director Ruben Arquilevich returned to the campgrounds days after the fire, he shared his reflections on the miracles he found – surviving the fire was a shed filled with prayer books, tallitot and sacred texts; a sign on a gate over the camp’s entrance that read “May you be blessed as you go on your way”; a 6-foot wooden Star of David on the hill (surrounded by hundreds of yards of blackened brush, he told JWeekly); and artwork by a longtime artist-in-residence. (Read his reflections here.)

Camp Newman fire
Some of the artwork located throughout the camp survived the fire. Photo courtesy of URJ Camp Newman

Although I never attended this camp – my own treasured camp memories are from Camp Pearlstein in Prescott (now called Camp Stein) – two of my cousins went to Camp Swig, which later became part of Camp Newman. That’s a reminder of how interconnected we all are.

Last week was also a reminder that while it’s nice to reside or congregate in beautiful buildings, the most important thing is the people we’re residing and congregating with. And, sometimes you can still find miracles among the ashes.

To help support the camp’s efforts in rebuilding, visit here. For lyrics to a new song about the fires, click here.

Camp Newman fire
A hillside view of URJ Camp Newman taken after the fire shows that the camp’s new Welcome Center was destroyed, but some of the cabins survived.
Photo courtesy of URJ Camp Newman

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