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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

October 20, 2017  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Officials spot ‘miracles’ amid ashes of Jewish camp in No. California

By ROB GLOSTER J. Jewish News of Northern California via JTA


Surrounded by blackened vegetation, Camp Newman’s iconic hillside Star of David survived a wildfire in Northern California. 
Photo URJ Camp Newman Facebook page Surrounded by blackened vegetation, Camp Newman’s iconic hillside Star of David survived a wildfire in Northern California. Photo URJ Camp Newman Facebook page SAN FRANCISCO — Administrators of a Jewish summer camp destroyed by a wildfire in Northern California toured the site for the first time, finding “miracles” amid the devastation.

Although most of Camp Newman’s buildings were lost in the North Bay Area wildfires, camp officials said an entrance gate, prayer books and tallit survived the flames, along with an iconic wooden Star of David that overlooks the Union for Reform Judaism camp from a rocky perch.

Each summer, about 1,400 children attend Camp Newman, located on 480 acres east of Santa Rosa.

The camp’s executive director, Ruben Arquilevich, and other camp officials visited the fire-ravaged site for the first time on Friday, Oct. 13, and were shocked by the scene even before they arrived.


While the Welcome Center sign remains, the wildfire destroyed the Welcome Center building, in background. While the Welcome Center sign remains, the wildfire destroyed the Welcome Center building, in background. In an interview afterward, Arquilevich said the road to the camp had featured “scenery filled with blue skies and green trees and grass, and the first part has always been a neighborhood with a couple of hundred homes But as we drove through that neighborhood, all we saw were homes burned to the ground. This used to be a color scene, and it was black and white. It just haunted me.”

Arquilevich’s spirits were raised, however, when he saw that the giant gate to the camp, inscribed with the words “May you be blessed as you go on your way,” was standing. Grapes dangled from some vines in the camp’s vineyard, which was undisturbed.

He was further relieved when the visitors found that a pair of Torah arks created by former camp artist-in-residence Helen Burke had survived. One had been dubbed the “Little Ambassador.”

At least 41 people have been killed as the result of 15 major wildfires across California. Over 217,000 acres and 5,700 structures have been destroyed.

The group made the 15-minute hike to the 6-foot Star of David, at which campers traditionally scream “I love being Jewish!” The wooden symbol “was completely untouched, surrounded by hundreds of yards of blackened brush,” Arquilevich told J.

The bimah of an amphitheater was heavily damaged, and all the nearby sheds were charred — “except for this one shed that contains our sacred texts and our prayer books and the tallitot,” Arquilevich said.

“It was completely intact,” he said. “We all just about broke into tears there because the tallitot were safe. That was just another miracle and just so moving. It pointed in the direction we’re going, with the idea that Camp Newman will continue.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, joined Arquilevich for the tour of the site. He said officials are determined to hold camp in 2018.

“We will have camp this summer,” Jacobs said. “I can’t tell you exactly where or how.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to help rebuild the camp, should go to https://campnewman.org/support-newman/newmanstrong.


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