February 20, 2019

Adventure camping on the coast

Summer camp options just got a lot more creative for Jewish teenagers on the West Coast.

As part of an effort to broaden opportunities for high-school students to explore Jewish identity over the summer, the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Camp Newman in Santa Rosa is launching three travel-adventure programs this summer.

Each of the 11- to 13-day niche programs approaches Judaism and building Jewish community through a different lens. Students can volunteer in an environmentally conscious Costa Rican village, sample adventure sports along the California coast or attend Major League Baseball games throughout the state.

The idea is to engage adventure-hungry teens with Jewish values in an environment that’s outside the confines of a synagogue or traditional summer camp, said Alex Rogers, Camp Newman’s assistant director of year-round programs.

“We realized that not every 11th-grader in high school can commit to spending 10 weeks at summer camp, but the idea of spending two weeks traveling with their friends, with other Jewish teenagers, across California really appeals to them,” he said. 

Collectively called J. Adventures, the programs break down as follows:

Costa Rica Adventure is an 11-day service learning expedition in partnership with the URJ’s Mitzvah Corps, a program that engages youth in social action. Teens will divide their time between the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, and a small village in the rainforest accessible only by boat, working alongside villagers on a service project while learning about environmental sustainability and social justice.

“They can learn about how different communities are functioning and take those ideas back to their own community,” Rogers said. “Our staff really tie in the Jewish values and historical teaching around social justice and how that’s a core component of Reform Judaism.”

The program is targeted toward teens entering grades 10-12 and costs $3,450. It will take place July 23-Aug. 2.

Outdoor Adventure is intended to allow teens to sample adventure sports and learn about nature and community building with California’s mountains, rivers and coastline as the backdrop. Teens will push themselves, learn to work as a team and create a community guided by Jewish values of respect for others and being a part of something bigger than oneself. Each participant will take on responsibilities such as preparing meals, cleaning up, maintaining their living space, and will support each other through the various adventure challenges. The program includes whitewater rafting along the American River near Sacramento; and hiking, paddle boarding and sea-kayaking in Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands National Park. (No experience is necessary.)

“The trip is really about challenging yourself and expanding your comfort zone to really work as a community to support each other,” Rogers said. “Our focus is really how you support each other within a community to take on new challenges, and what it means to be challenged in different ways.” 

Scheduled June 30-July 12, it is for students entering grades 10-12. The cost is $3,850.

As part of Baseball Adventure, teens will travel up the California coast from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area, catching four Major League Baseball games and one minor league game at five different parks, meeting with players and team executives and performing community service work. Participants will explore the larger role of sports in society and how a team’s impact on a community goes beyond baseball.

“It’s more about the connections between sportsmanship and Jewish values,” Rogers said. “We’re really using baseball as sort of a metaphor for what it means to, one, be part of a team and your relationship with your other team members and the values that you hold in those relationships, and, two, to really examine what it means to be the best version of yourself, or the best at something, and how you work to get there.” 

This program is for students entering grades 9 and 10 and will take place July 14-26. The cost is $3,850. 

The programs are led by Camp Newman staff in partnership with established organizations and adventure outfitters on the ground where applicable. The California trips have space for up to 35 teenagers, while the Costa Rica trip has room for up to 20, Rogers said. Camp Newman pledges to maintain at least a 1:8 staff-to-teen ratio on all trips, and the costs include travel, accommodations, meals and programming.

Camp Newman (campnewman.org) developed the trip ideas through outreach to youth, visitors and camp faculty, and visits to congregations and youth programs where teens were asked what kinds of summer opportunities they’d like to see, Rogers said.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami, a Reform synagogue in Calabasas, said teenagers from a delegation he brings to Camp Newman every summer helped contribute ideas. He applauded the J. Adventures programs.

“Simply put, I wish I were a teenager,” he said. “These programs give the kids a chance to step outside their comfort zones, to have adventure, to do some social action, all within a Jewish framework. It’s exciting, it’s new, and it’s different.”

The rabbi said finding new ways to engage Jewish teens is critical to maintaining their interest in Judaism later on.

“The challenging reality is that post bar/bat mitzvah, huge percentages of teens don’t engage Jewishly in a significant way, and part of it is because we’re expecting them to come to us and fit into certain cookie-cutter programs,” he said. “Teens are the Jewish future, and it is key that we engage them. And we have to ask the teens what the teens are into and create programs that match their interests with