February 26, 2020

State Set to Allocate Funds for Decimated Jewish Summer Camps

In April, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division members, Jewish summer camp leaders and Jewish Public Affairs Committee representatives visited Sacramento. They lobbied for state funds to rebuild Jewish camps destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey fire and the 2017 Tubbs fire. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Following advocacy efforts by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a budget deal allocating $23.5 million in state funding to three California Jewish summer camps destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey and the 2017 Tubbs fires.

The funds are part of a larger $214.8 billion budget passed by the California State Legislature on June 13. The $23.5 million is earmarked for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) camps Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop; the Shalom Institute Camp and Conference Center’s JCA Shalom; and Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa in Northern California.

During a June 14 interview at Federation’s offices, CEO and President Jay Sanderson said his organization coordinated the efforts to secure state funding for the camps, working with Jewish California lawmakers including State Sens. Ben Allen, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Henry Stern and Bob Hertzberg, and Assembly members Richard Bloom and Jesse Gabriel, vice chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

“From the very beginning, we created this multipronged strategy of how to get these camps [funding] going forward, using all of our assets and all of our resources and all of our relationships for [bringing] all of this together for hopefully the successful conclusion when the governor signs this budget for this piece of the rebuilding process,” Sanderson said.

Gabriel told the Journal the aim was to have the money distributed equitably among the camps. “We felt these are such important institutions for the community, both in Southern California and Northern California, and so we went to bat … [and] made it clear to our colleagues and to the legislature that this is important to the Jewish community and broader community, as well.” 

“The allocation of state money for the camps is a jumping-off point for greater fundraising efforts needed for the camps to eventually reopen at their former homes.”

Prior to the November 2018 Woolsey fire, WBT’s Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop camps shared a Malibu property and Shalom Institute’s Camp JCA Shalom also was based in Malibu. The camps are still working with the California Coastal Commission and other agencies to clean up the debris left by the fire.

The rebuilding effort will require major fundraising, Federation Senior Vice President of Community Engagement Alisa Finsten said, adding that the allocation of state money for the camps is a jumping-off point for greater fundraising efforts needed for the camps to eventually reopen at their former homes.

This summer, Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop will hold its programs at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo, and the JCA Shalom camp will take place at Gold Creek Center in the Angeles National Forest.

Sanderson, whose daughter attended camp at Gindling Hilltop, said the state funding was about more than gaining financial assistance for rebuilding. Camp, he said, is the single most impactful way to ensure a young person stays engaged in Jewish life as an adult.

“We believe one of the most essential building blocks to a strong Jewish community is having strong, vibrant Jewish summer camps, and we have been supporting the camps and families going to camp for a very long time,” Sanderson said. “And if camps go down, that doesn’t help this. So our job is to help the camps get back up. 

“We don’t want to rebuild these camps as they were,” he added. “We want to rebuild them as they should be.”

Federation also has provided office space in the San Fernando Valley for the Shalom Institute in the wake of the Woolsey fire and has helped bring in a dining hall for JCA Shalom to use at its temporary site this summer. It also has provided resources for the WBT camps’ supplies for archery, baseball, football and other activities.

Barri Worth Girvan, deputy chief of staff for Hertzberg, began attending Camp JCA Shalom when she was 9 years old and remained involved with the camp for 13 years. She said the state allocation of funds was the rare example of many different elements of the Jewish community coming together. She said the community initially requested $35 million from the state and that it was unusual for such a large portion of that initial amount to
be granted.

“We’re pretty ecstatic the way numbers have shaken out,” Girvan said regarding the potential allocation of $23.5 million, “and I’m excited to see the rebuilding start.”

As of the Journal’s press time, Gov. Newsom had not yet signed off on the funding, nor was their any indication on how the money would be divided among the camps.