Three Malibu Jewish Summer Camps Destroyed in CA Wildfire

“Fire cannot destroy memories. Camp has always been about community, friendship and Torah.”

The Southern California wildfires forced over 260,000 people to evacuate and burned more than 96,000 acres. More than 435 structures were charred and structural damage was suffered by a number of Jewish institutions. Three Malibu Jewish camps, Ginding Hilltop, Camp Shalom, and Camp Hess Kramer were totally obliterated by the fire. The embers were extinguished by firefighters as they held the potential to trigger another fire.

According to a letter posted to the website of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, those who loved these camps are devastated by the loss of structures due to the Woolsey fire. Camp Hess Kramer said in a Facebook message that the essence of these buildings lies not in the structures themselves but in the community, Torah, and friendship. Memories cannot be destroyed by fire. Camp activities were always about the who and what, not where.

The Woolsey fire destroyed two camps, Hess Kramer and Camp Hilltop, at the first stage. Camp Hess Kramer had 200 school children before it was evacuated on November 8. The students were attending an organized science retreat. The flames destroyed about 24 cabins other than the dining halls and recreation areas in both the camps. Also burned was the outdoor chapel attached with Camp Hess Kramer. The chapel was the venue for daily prayer services.

Over 40,000 children have passed through the gates of such hallowed institutions. JCA Shalom, a nearby third camp, was also burned down. The latter performed two functions, a summer camp and a facility for retreats. Camp Hess Kramer saved three Torah scrolls from the burned down chapel.

The destruction is a substantial loss for the Jewish community in Southern California. It especially hit thousands of families who have settled with their children in the area. All camps have a common owner: the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The latter is one of the biggest synagogues in the Los Angeles area. Doug Lynn, the Camp Director, assured everyone the camps are completely insured, and they will be rebuilt.

The Reform Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas’s “ Kid Camp and Adult Hangout” was moved on November 9 to a nearby school. The synagogue said it is offering support, space, and food to those who need it.

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