Camp Newman – Don’t Call it a Comeback!

From the fires that forced them to relocate to the virus that made in-person summer camp unfeasible, Camp Newman has endured what seems like one insurmountable challenge after another. And there were those who thought they would not be able to overcome it.

They were wrong.

Led by Camp Director Rabbi Allie Fischman and a dedicated squad of staff and volunteers — many of whom are former campers themselves — the Newman team has created an online camp experience that has brought back, at least in part, the single most important ingredient of any healthy childhood: Fun.

Of course, nobody at Camp Newman expected that a virtual camp experience could fully take the place of physical camp, but through their Zoomin’ with Newman and TeenFest programs, their online summer camp provided an essential lifeline — and a joyful one to boot — to families and children that desperately needed one. And according to Rabbi Fischman, it not only saved a lot of summers, but also restored a lot of souls.

“It filled our hearts with joy every single time we saw all those kids on screen because we were a real community again,” said Fischman. “It was just amazing and beautiful to see and I think everyone… everyone needed it.”

Their two-week TeenFest program brought old and new friends together to participate in a range of activities that included music and song, art, cooking, and yoga with a healthy infusion of leadership lessons.

“It helped me feel connected to my identity and has made me feel a lot better about being Jewish,” said one teen who participated in their Zoom “Yitro” group which took a deep dive into leadership development. “I am really grateful for the people who I have been with for the past two weeks. We all grew such a close relationship through Zoom. I will definitely use all of my thoughts and ideas for the future.”

And another camper who attended the “Hevrah” sessions which focused on social justice activities said, “I have learned so much about social justice: how to be an ally, how to stand up for what I believe in, and what I can do specifically to make the world a little bit better. I definitely plan to be more actively involved in social justice groups in the future, and to be more of an upstander for those around me.”

Siblings participate in a Camp Newman virtual event (image via Instagram)

Indeed, dozens of campers, from the early grades through high school, related similar stories of that would not have been possible without the creativity and resilience of the campers and staff as well as the Federation’s support which, according to Fischman, enabled them to hire critical staffers and to pay operating costs for the entire summer.

Camp Newman received $100,000 in COVID-19 bridge and reopening grants to Jewish Institutions, $38,902 in repurposed funds for operating support, and $59,753 to be carried over for scholarships next year. The bridge grants support organizations impacted by lost revenue, facilitate a safe and healthy re-opening, and assist with startup costs to adjust or resume operations. Funding to camps provides refunds to families, alternative summer programming, and incentives to encourage families to donate or defer/credit their camp fees. Grants are funded by the COVID-19 Response Fund and the unrestricted endowment. Over the summer, the camp also received $18,000 to support Teen Fest through the Federation's Teen Initiative COVID-19 Summer Teen Program Grants.

A camper shows off a freshly tie-dyed shirt she received in a camp swag box (image via Facebook)

As for what comes next for Camp Newman: whether virtual camp, in-person camp, or a hybrid experience, the unpredictability of the pandemic makes it difficult to put too fine a point on it, but there will be camp in some form or another.

“We’re so excited,” concluded Rabbi Fischman. “Because providing the summer experience is the biggest reason why most of us work in camp in the first place… and everyone should have the opportunity to do camp this coming summer… no matter what.”


October 21, 2020


Jon Moskin