A new life for Camp Swig

The Camp Swig saga took an unexpected turn this week when a Methodist group’s $6 million offer to buy the camp — thought to be a done deal — fell through.

This is bad news for the Union of Reform Judaism, which has been trying to sell the Saratoga property for years. But for those who want to see the site remain in Jewish hands, this might be good news.

The collapse of the Methodist deal might revive a proposal from the Jewish Retreat Center of Northern California, a coalition of Jewish activists that made a $5 million offer before being outbid by the Methodist group last year.

All along, the retreat center intended to preserve some of Camp Swig’s most beloved structures, such as the Jo Naymark Holocaust Memorial, along with a new building to be constructed on the premises.

Of course, we remain concerned that even in the best of economic times, anyone purchasing the Camp Swig facility may be in for a financial headache.

Long in disrepair and nowhere near up to earthquake safety standards, the site would require a serious upgrade before it could support an institution like the retreat center.

And these are not the best of economic times.

Moreover, as our story this week suggests, it’s hard to know if the retreat center’s $5 million offer will ever get back on the table. The center could just as well purchase some other piece of Northern California that would provide an equally beautiful and seismically safer home base.

But how can we not root hard for Camp Swig?

Since the early 1950s, this special place served as a second Jewish home for countless thousands of campers, not to mention staffers. In a way, it’s sacred ground for the Northern California Jewish community. For so many, it has been very distressing to see the camp come to such an ignominious end.

We don’t claim to know better than the URJ, the retreat center, camp alumni groups and others about what to do with the property. They are the ones on the front lines, the ones with fiduciary responsibilities and the ones who care so passionately about the site.

True, Camp Swig died years ago, and now lives on only in the memories of campers and staff. Swig alumni held their own moving memorial at the site in March. The goodbyes have been said.

Those trying to keep the site a Jewish place are heroes, even if they are somewhat exhausted heroes by now. This latest news just might give them the backwind they need to save Camp Swig as a Jewish place.

Will they succeed? No one knows, of course, but sometimes, even the most audacious of dreams come true.