Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu was one of three Jewish camps to be destroyed by fire in California.
Courtesy Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu was one of three Jewish camps to be destroyed by fire in California.

Tamarack reaches out to help Malibu camp destroyed by fire.

Jennifer Lovy Contributing Writer

More than 2,300 miles from the picturesque grounds of Camp Tamarack in Ortonville sit the charred remains of three Jewish overnight camps in Malibu that were destroyed by a deadly wildfire that recently claimed the lives of at least 88 people in California.

Steve Engel
Steve Engel Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Upon learning about the devastating loss of almost every single structure at the Camp JCA Shalom — an institution Tamarack leadership knows through a mutual affiliation with the JCC Association of North America — Tamarack’s CEO Steve Engel was one of many to reach out to the director of the California camp to see what could be done to help.

“The destruction that the Woolsey fires caused at Camp JCA Shalom is reverberating across the Jewish world. There has been an outpouring of support from JCC camps and communities that demonstrates the strength and power of the JCC movement,” said Jodi Sperling, JCC Association senior consultant on overnight camp.

According to Sperling, leaders from other West Coast JCC camps drove hours to be with the JCA Shalom team, bringing food and supplies. Camps across North America have sent meals and gift cards to JCA Shalom’s year-round staff, 30 of whom lived on site and lost everything in the wildfires. Like Tamarack, JCA Shalom is used year-round for retreats and other camp experiences.

Sperling, who obtained her master’s in social work and certificate in Jewish communal services and Jewish studies from the University of Michigan in 2002 and completed a one-year field placement at Tamarack, added: “The road to recovery will be long and hard, but JCA Shalom knows they won’t have to go through it alone.”

Camp Hess Kramer and its smaller sister camp, Gindling Hilltop, were the other Malibu camps destroyed by the horrific fire. However, because of Tamarack’s affiliation with JCA Shalom through the JCCA, leadership choose to focus its attention on this particular camp by donating to the camp’s wildfire relief fund. Also, through social media, Tamarack is sharing camp updates, including ways to help JCA Shalom.

“I was just in California, miles removed from the fires, yet totally connected to the pain felt by those directly affected,” said Lee Trepeck, director of Camp Maas at Tamarack Camps. “As a community, our entire Tamarack Camps family shares in the sadness of damages and losses endured at Camp JCA Shalom, Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp.

“Even through destruction, the spirit at their camps endures. In Judaism, love thy neighbor is considered a paramount principle. So while we feel deep sympathy for the damages at these Jewish summer camps, we also recognize that so many may have lost even more. Our heavy hearts extend to this entire community.”

According to Engel, Joel Charnick, longtime director of JCA Shalom, was overwhelmed by the amount of support coming from camps and other organizations in the wake of the fires.

“Despite the devastation, Joel and the JCA Shalom team remain positive, encouraged and ready to move forward. In a recent email, they say, ‘Together, we will turn ashes to blossoms,’ and that’s exactly what remain positive, encouraged and ready to move forward. In a recent email, they say, ‘Together they will turn ashes to blossoms,’ and that’s exactly what they will do — together. They are not in this alone, as they have the entire Jewish camping community behind them,” Engel said.

All the camps plan to rebuild and, in the meantime, are in the process of securing temporary locations.

Weingarden-Devaney Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Caryn Weingarden-Devaney of Commerce Township attended both Hess Kramer and Hilltop. “Much of my Jewish identity is because of those camps,” she said. “It was, is and always will be the most special Shabbat service on Earth.”

A few years ago, her family attended the 60th-anniversary celebration of Kramer and, in July, she took her children, Tamarack campers, to California to attend the 50th-anniversary celebration of Hilltop.

“I was in tears, telling them what happened,” she said. “However, no fire can destroy the memories and friendships we created at camp. It cannot take away their magic and their spirit.”


To donate to Camp JCA Shalom, visit To donate to Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp, visit You can read more and view additional photos at

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