Jewish camp buildings destroyed in Santa Rosa, but not before Torah scrolls saved

- A popular Jewish camp in Santa Rosa was among the 1,500-plus structures that were damaged or destroyed during the wine country wildfires that first broke out Sunday night, but not before the staff could save the holy Torah scrolls.

The Torah is the most important book to the Jewish faith, and is believed to contain the words of God to Moses.

“It is with tremendous shock and sadness that we share that the majority of the buildings at our beloved Camp Newman home have been destroyed," camp director Ruben Arquilevich wrote in an email to the camp community. 

The camp, which runs year-round, had hosted a family camp on Saturday and Sunday. The families left Sunday afternoon as was scheduled. When the Tubbs Fire started heading the camp’s way, the remaining staff evacuated about 10 p.m. Sunday according to Dina Hankin of Oakland, who is on faculty at the camp along with her husband, Phil, who used to be the camp director.

“We are in devastation and mourning,” Dina Hankin said. “The community will rebuild, but the memories and the artwork are what we are worried about the most.”

Camp staff has not gone back to the site at 4088 Porter Creek Road in Santa Rosa to check out the damage, according to a series of Facebook posts. The camp bought this property in 1997 and offers summer camp programs, retreats and year-round events. The camp dedicated a new $4-million conference center in November 2016, according to the J. Weekly. The camp serves some 1,400 children every summer.

The camp is certainly not the only meaningful property to burn during these devastating wildfires. A Catholic high school, Cardinal Newman, in Santa Rosa also was destroyed during the fire, as were several wineries, homes and the iconic Silverado Resort.

It is also not the only camp to face fire up close.  Berkeley Tuolome Camp was destroyed during the Rim Fire of 2013, and it’s still not rebuilt. Nearby Camp Tawonga, outside of Yosemite National Park, was spared the fire, but not before its staff ran back to camp to retrieve its Holocaust-era Torah.

Despite the grief of the Camp Newman community, the rabbis and camp staff held a Facebook live singing circle Monday night for the wider community. "When we have lost our permanent home, when we have lost our home," Rabbi Erin Mason said on the video. "This gives us an opportunity where we don't need a home. Where love and memories are stronger than the home. We will rebuild and it will be amazing."

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