Wilderness Torah Stop Wandering, Find Home at Camp Newman – J.

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It’s a shiddush – an arranged marriage – made in heaven.

A partner, who suffered a devastating fire in 2017, was looking to rebuild a life of vigor and passion. The other partner, also bursting with energy, saw himself as a “wandering Jew” and sought to settle down.

This is how the engaged couple, Camp Newman and Wilderness Torah, might describe their just-announced collaboration, which over the next seven years will culminate in the Center for Earth-Based Judaism, or CEBJ.

The new center, which will be located on the idyllic 500 acres of Camp Newman, much of which has been restored after being devastated by the Tubbs fire in 2017, will allow the two organizations to expand their programming, engage in joint initiatives – such as efforts to address the climate change emergency – and provide greater opportunities members of the community to participate in educational, spiritual and cultural offers on the camp of the Site of Sainte Rose.

So two of the shadchens (the matchmakers) behind the partnership, Camp Newman Executive Director Ari Vared and Wilderness Torah Executive Director Rabbi Zelig Golden; his group, known for their vacation retreats, is committed to helping Jews connect with Jewish traditions on earth and become better stewards of the environment.

Ari Vared

“We are more than thrilled,” said Vared, who views the Camp Newman and Wilderness Torah merger as an example of the sum greater than its parts. “Sometimes one plus one equals seven,” he said.

The CEBJ, which Vared described as a “component of the [Camp Newman] retreat center ”, will give young campers a chance“ to experience Judaism through nature ”and enrich the outdoor experiences in which Wilderness Torah excels, he added.

For Golden, securing a home port at Camp Newman is a dream come true. After leaping from the Bay Area to the region for the past 14 years – whether it be to observe Shavuot on Mount Tamalpais or Tu B’Shevat in the Redwoods – Wilderness Torah will no longer be “a wandering Jew,” a he declared. Many of its vacation programs will move to Camp Newman, with the exception of its Passover in the Desert program.

Golden added that Wilderness Torah looks forward to creating “a whole new set of programs,” including ancestral skills workshops, which will teach participants how to make handicrafts from available natural materials, as well as multigenerational programs across multiple generations. days centered on community festivals, such as as Sukkot.

As for the real physical “center” of the Center for Earth-based Judaism, that is a work in progress, said Malka Hoffman, CEBJ design coordinator. Indeed, this will involve a one-year process of actively collecting ideas from community members on what the center should look and be like.

Wilderness Torah and Camp Newman are well positioned to make an exceptional contribution to JOFEE [Jewish outdoor, food, farming and environmental education] and summer camp grounds which could have a much wider impact.

Hoffman pointed out the “beautiful synchronicity” of this year of idea-gathering, coming just as the Jews enter the shmita, the seventh “sabbatical” year in which the land is fallow, allowing him to rest. and prepare for bounty and regeneration over the six years. to follow. Now is the time, she said, because it is important for the community to take a break and think deeply about what the CEBJ can be like before construction begins the following year and lasts for the next six years – until ‘until the next shmita.

Hoffman said all CEBJ buildings erected at Camp Newman, which is operated by the Union of Reform Judaism, will be made with natural fire-resistant materials and showcase the skills of lay members of the community, who, under the tutelage of a team of architects will lead the construction effort. They will be “invited to ‘raise the barn’,” she said.

Vared said a site, “a five to seven minute walk from the main camp,” has been designated for the CEBJ site. In addition, Hoffman said, the lands on the Newman property have been allocated to “land practices,” such as a permaculture system – “an agricultural ecosystem that regenerates the land and supports the existing ecology.”

With oak trees, rolling hills and a rich variety of flora, “there is so much potential,” Hoffman said.

Rabbi Zelig Golden
Rabbi Zelig Golden

The genesis of the CEBJ dates back to 2015, when Golden and other Jewish leaders in the Bay Area participated in the Rabin community building mission in Israel. There, he spoke to Ruben Arquilevich, then longtime executive director of Camp Newman and now vice president of URJ camps, about “cultivating partnerships like” the possible Newman-Wilderness Torah initiative.

Going forward five years and the idea received a boost from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, which awarded a planning grant of $ 55,000 to the two organizations to initiate discussions on developing a “institution that would build its approach to combating and adapting to climate change on a foundation of Jewish wisdom,” said Foundation Board Chair Mamie Kanfer Stewart.

“Wilderness Torah and Camp Newman are well positioned to make an exceptional contribution to JOFEE [Jewish outdoor, food, farming and environmental education] and summer camp grounds that could have a much larger impact, ”added Kanfer Stewart. “The pressing climate challenges we face demand that we take a new approach to galvanize our communities, and we were happy to contribute to such an endeavor. “

It is not known how widespread such an alliance between a Jewish camp and another type of Jewish organization is. But Jerry Kaye, who for nearly five decades led another UJR camp – the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin – said he was unaware of other similar partnerships. He sees the Camp Newman-Wilderness Torah collaboration as a “positive” development and thinks it will be interesting to see if such an arrangement could be a precursor.

News of the creation of the CEBJ follows Camp Newman’s return this summer to its Santa Rosa location almost four years after the Tubbs fire destroyed 80 percent of its structures. In addition to undertaking a massive, multi-year reconstruction effort, which cost millions of dollars, the camp faced the arduous task of serving the public during Covid, ultimately adopting an online model in 2020. These challenges, has Vared said, were also an opportunity for the camp. Newman to think about how to better meet the needs of the community in the future. “Finding the right partner” in Wilderness Torah, which has “complementary skill sets”, will allow the two organizations to be stronger than ever, he said.


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