From campgrounds to concrete

Fifteen-year-olds from Camp Newman learned two things about environmental activism Monday, Aug. 6 in San Francisco.

It’s important.

And it’s hard.

“Last year, it was easy to get people’s attention — everyone has an opinion on immigration,” said Ethan Karl, of Hillsborough, regarding last summer’s social action theme. “This year, it’s harder. People are tired of hearing about the environment, or they think it’s not their problem.”

Karl was one of about 40 teens who spent the day Monday, Aug. 6, in San Francisco, visiting with representatives from Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office, the city’s Department of the Environment and the Department of Water Conservation. The field trip marked the culmination of a social-action-oriented session at camp, called Hevrah, which every year has a different focus. This year, campers concentrated on the environment.

For most of the summer, teens focused on their camp community. They built trails, planted a garden, painted a mural and expanded the camp’s recycling program.

“Yes, they can change things at camp, but today is about showing them they can also teach and change other communities,” said Jordana Chernow-Reader, the head of the Hevrah program.

Chernow-Reader, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, was a Hevrah camper in 1991. She remembers it as her favorite summer at camp.

“The experience teaches teens that in whatever issue they’re passionate about, they can change things,” she said.

Some of the participants prepared a skit about the environment (calling it Guerilla Theater), donning black trash bags and creating a rhythm section with blue recycling bins and aluminum cans. Meanwhile, other teens passed out fliers and pledge cards they had made at camp.

Karl’s realistic attitude didn’t stop him from approaching people downtown during their lunch breaks, determined to teach passers-by a piece of what he learned during his three-week camp session.

He stopped an elderly man in a plaid shirt, blue windbreaker and high-waisted brown pants.

“It would mean a lot to me if you would sign this,” Karl said, then thrust a quarter-sheet of paper into the man’s hand. The sheet encouraged people to pledge they would turn off lights when they’re not in a room.

“I already do that,” the man said. They spoke for another few minutes about neighbors who wastefully water their lawns and concluded with a firm handshake. Karl walked back his friends, smiling. They, on the other hand, looked discouraged.

“You just gotta keep trying,” Jeremy Gimbel, a counselor from San Diego, reassured them. “If you’re able to get just one person, that feels awesome.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.