January 28, 2020

Shalom Institute Cleanup, Ceremony Marks One Year Since Woolsey Fire

Participants in the Shalom Institute’s cleanup removed invasive species that have been growing at the site since the Woolsey fire. Photo by Ryan Torok

A year after the Woolsey fire devastated the Shalom Institute, home of Camp JCA Shalom, hundreds of supporters gathered at the burn site near the Malibu-Los Angeles County border on Nov. 10 to participate in a camp cleanup effort. 

“It’s one thing to be writing checks,” Larry Cohen, incoming president of the Shalom Institute told the Journal. “It’s another to be getting your hands dirty.”

While the majority of the debris has been taken away, volunteers, with the help of the environmental nonprofit TreePeople, helped remove invasive plant species that have grown at the site since the fire, including castor bean, wild tobacco and mustard plant.

Teri Applebaum and her 10-year-old son, Josh, helped dig out a fence post where the ropes course used to stand. The Applebaums, who live in Fullerton, attend family camp every year. “This is a really special place for our family,” Applebaum said.

“I want to be part of the community and help restore this day camp,” said Woodland Hills resident Sebastian Djavadi. Despite never having been involved with the Shalom Institute, Djavadi came out with Cohen and Cohen’s son Adam to lend a hand. “Anything I can do to help,” he said. 

The Shalom Institute has needed a lot of help in the past year, especially because it offers year-round programming. This year, it held its summer camp at the Gold Creek Center site in Sylmar, and it has relied on other organizations, including Camp Ramah, to host various day programs.  

“It’s all very emotional, but it feels like camp today.” — Barri Worth Girvan

As part of the $23.5 million in the California state budget that was recently allocated toward rebuilding structures lost in the Woolsey fire and the 2017 Tubbs fire, the Shalom Institute is set to receive $6 million. 

Executive Director Rabbi Bill Kaplan hopes the Shalom Institute will return to its home on Mulholland Highway in 2021. The site is located 2 miles from the Pacific Coast Highway, where a large, still-standing “Shalom” sign welcomes people to the property.

Carol Koransky, executive vice president and special counsel at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was among the attendees at the Nov. 10 event. “We have been here before, we will be here after and we will continue to help you grow as a family and a community,” Koransky said during the event’s musical closing ceremony.

Barri Worth Girvan, who first attended Camp JCA Shalom in 1992, enjoyed the music with her toddler daughter and her husband. She said she was pleasantly surprised to see the bleachers she helped build beside the basketball court still standing, though not much else remained. 

She hopes that eventually her daughter will be able to attend the camp once it’s restored. 

“We’re here to help rebuild because I want her to have a future here,” Worth Girvan said. “It’s all very emotional, but it feels like camp today.”