Eco-friendly Jewish summer camp expands to California
October 31st, 2017
One hundred percent kosher. One hundred percent organic. Locally sourced. Meal options include gluten-free with dairy, gluten-free without dairy or “regular.”
Casey Yurow, the camp director at Eden Village West, couldn’t help but laugh as he described the kosher kitchen offerings the new Sonoma-based Jewish camp will have.
“We are redefining camp food,” he said.
That “good for our bodies — good for the planet” approach to camp meals is part and parcel of the Eden Village West’s message of stewardship of the Earth as an integral part of a complete Jewish life. It’s a message the camp will be bringing to Northern California for the first time.
“It feels like such an incredible fit for the culture and values of the West Coast,” Yurow said.
Eden Village West is a branch of Eden Village Camp, which was founded eight years ago and is located in Putnam Valley, New York, about 50 miles north of Manhattan. Slogans such as “The innovative Jewish organic farm camp,” “Fun with deep roots” and “Get dirty. Eat organic. Make Shabbat a party” dot the camps’ websites.
The new West camp is scheduled to open its doors next summer in Sonoma, on the campus of Rio Lindo Adventist Academy, a private school in Healdsburg. The website lists three sessions, all for third- to ninth-graders, with the first beginning June 19.
Yurow said watching the Sonoma County fires come only miles away from the future Eden Village West site was hard, but staff was grateful that the facility was spared. “It was a nerve-wracking time for everybody,” he said.
Beyond delicious and thoughtful food, the new camp will focus on creativity through a culinary arts program, organic farming, handicrafts, herb knowledge and wilderness skills. Yurow said it’s about teaching children to become caretakers of the natural world.
“That Earth-based approach to Judaism allows kids to feel connected,” he said.
As a new camp, Eden Village West received a $1.5 million Specialty Camps Incubator grant through the Foundation for Jewish Camp, supported by the S.F.-based Jim Joseph Foundation and the Avi Chai Foundation. The grant will provide funding during planning, start-up and the first three years of operation.
The inaugural year of Eden Village West will include three two-week sessions with 50 campers each, and Yurow is looking forward to it.
“We really get to co-create the culture that we want to see,” Yurow said.
And that culture includes serving kids and families that range from secular to regular synagogue attendees. “We maintain a baseline observance while not assuming that a camper has any background in Jewish learning,” the website notes. Eden Village and Eden Village West are not affiliated with a denomination and they take a pluralistic approach that is integral to the camp’s mission.
“Just like in an ecosystem, the more diversity you have, the stronger that ecosystem is,” Yurow said.