URJ Camp Newman (seen here before it was ravaged by fire in 2017) has decided to cancel summer 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/File)
URJ Camp Newman (seen here before it was ravaged by fire in 2017) has decided to cancel summer 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/File)

Camp Newman cancels summer season because of coronavirus

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URJ Camp Newman, an overnight camp in the North Bay affiliated with the Reform movement, will not operate its summer sessions this year.

The move accompanies a nationwide decision announced today by the Union of Reform Judaism camp network to shutter for the season because of concerns about coronavirus.

“This is to keep our campers, our staff and our faculty safe throughout the summer,” said Camp Newman director Rabbi Allie Fischman.

Newman is the first large Jewish camp in Northern California to announce a cancellation. Other camps, including Camp Tawonga, just outside Yosemite, and JCC Maccabi Sports Camp in Atherton, are still going through the decision-making process. Tawonga’s leadership will hold a virtual town hall on Facebook, May 7 at 4:30 p.m., to share its plans.

Fischman said the Reform movement’s decision came after URJ leadership and camp directors across the country talked to health officials and public health experts and came to the consensus that an overnight camp this summer was not feasible.

“It was clear that right now we couldn’t see a path forward to do that safely,” she said.

Newman is one of 16 Union of Reform Judaism camps that will not offer a summer sleepaway session. Thursday’s statement from URJ called the decision, which will affect some 10,000 campers, “heartbreaking.”

“The changes that would be required to beloved activities — reducing the number of campers in a cabin, no contact sports or Shabbat strolls, and more — would render the heart of the camp experience unrecognizable,” the statement said.

The changes that would be required … would render the heart of the camp experience unrecognizable

Fischman said she was proud of URJ for coming to this difficult but necessary decision and that the emotional well-being of campers was still Newman’s No. 1 priority.

“They’ve lost so much and they’re dealing with so much in their lives right now,” she said.

Enrolled Newman families can participate in a call Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. to find out more, and Newman will be posting information for the wider community next week.

The summer cancellation will affect around 800 campers and 100 staff, including 15 young Israelis who would have come to work at the camp this summer. According to Fischman, families who have already paid tuition can receive a refund, a credit on future programs or can use it as a donation towards a matching grant program.

“Anything families leave with us as a donation, it’ll be matched one-to-one by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation,” she said.

Camp Newman has had a turbulent past few years. In 2017, much of the camp’s site in Santa Rosa was destroyed by the catastrophic wildfires that tore through Sonoma and Napa counties. While ground has been broken on new buildings, this summer the camp would have operated, as it did for the past two summers, at its temporary location on the campus of California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo. But now it looks like Newman campers will have to wait until 2021 to meet with beloved friends and counselors in person.

In the meantime, Fischman said, Newman will continue to offer virtual bonding experiences, like online “all camp siyums,” culminating celebrations, every Thursday via Facebook. And though the news was sad, she said she’s sure that the camp community is resilient enough to make it through this year.

“Camp Newman has been through a lot in the past two and a half years,” Fischman said. “The community has really banded together and shown the strength in our people.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.