Parashat Bereisheet

Friday, October 13, 2017 / 23 Tishrei, 5777
Parashat Bereisheet Genesis 1:1-6:8
Dear Friends,
A star, two trees and an ark.  It would be hard to find these objects unless you were really paying attention.  However, when I closely examined the first series of photographs from Camp Newman, I and many others realized that important symbols of Camp Newman still remained.
Perched high above the field and the lower part of camp, a Magen David, (a Jewish star) is affixed to a boulder.  The star is part of Camp Newman’s logo.  As I examined one photo closely, through the smoky haze, I saw the star still intact serving as a protective shield (magen), shining brightly from above.
In another photograph, behind the destroyed Welcome Center, I saw two towering and majestic redwood trees still standing.  These two trees are the most prominent among the hundreds if not thousands that grow on the Camp Newman property, rising high above where the Welcome Center and Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) once stood.  I was reminded today that redwood trees are among the most durable and even thrive after a fire. I have felt all week that if the trees remained, then Camp Newman could possibly remain on that site.
In a third photograph of a building burned to dust and rubble, I noticed a small, portable metal ark, created by noted camp artist Helen Burke and designed specifically to hold Camp Newman’s Holocaust Torah. While most of her other beautiful works that had adorned camp appear to have been destroyed, this one remains.
What do we learn from a star, two trees and an ark?
The Magen David is a sign of our enduring strength; two redwood trees, a sign of our resilience; the Ark, a sign of our faith. These physical objects remain.  If we use these objects to inspire and motivate us to rebuild, I have great faith that Camp Newman will arise again on Porter Creek Road, and remain a vital part of the Santa Rosa landscape.
This week in our synagogues, we begin again from the beginning of the Torah. The first chapters of the Book of Genesis remind us of God’s creativity and power in creating our world out of nothing, using divine words and divine action to build our world.  The catastrophic fires in Northern California turned a lot of something into nothing and continue to burn even as we mark a new beginning in the book of Genesis.
The destruction and devastation in Santa Rosa is hard to fathom and it is hard to imagine a new beginning now and the fires still burn.  The number of lives lost continues to rise; more than three thousand homes were destroyed.  It will take years to rebuild, however, eventually we will all lend our hands to create a new beginning.  As we rebuild Newman, we will help rebuild Santa Rosa. If the star, two trees, and an ark can be our symbol of hope and renewal for Camp Newman, perhaps they can be symbols of hope and renewal for Santa Rosa and the entire region.
After three and a half days of despondence, I finally found glimmers of hope in a star, two trees and an ark.  May these objects inspire us to work to rebuild, to heal, to make whole and to bring about hope and a new beginning.
Join us tonight at 7:30 p.m. for a Camp Newman Style Shabbat Service where we will hear from current and past campers, about how camp has affected our lives.  And if you’d like to contribute to the rebuilding process, link here to make your donation.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Charles Briskin