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As Camp Sale Falls Through, Alums Remain Hopeful

Los Angeles — In a surprise turnabout, troubles in the real-estate market have scuttled a controversial plan to sell a beloved Jewish summer camp in Northern California to a Christian group, reviving the possibility that the camp might remain in Jewish hands.

The facility, Camp Swig, is one of the oldest summer camps of Reform Judaism and has been a fixture in Bay Area Jewish life for more than half a century. Its owner, the Union for Reform Judaism, announced plans last December to sell the camp to a Methodist group for $6 million, prompting widespread protests from alumni and community leaders.

The sale fell through recently, after the buyer was unable to come up with the money. The 185-acre property, south of San Francisco, is now back on the market.

Opponents of the sale had hoped to maintain the site as a Jewish communal facility, citing practical as well as sentimental and symbolic reasons. In particular, protesters pointed to the Jo Naymark Holocaust Memorial, an ornate $400,000 chapel built in 1981 and reportedly not movable.

One group of Bay Area rabbis and camp alumni, calling itself HaMakom (Hebrew for “The Place”), offered last year to buy the camp for $5 million in order to build a retreat center for Jewish adults. The Reform union accepted instead the higher bid from the Methodist group, citing “fiduciary responsibility.”

According to a spokesman for the URJ, Donald Cohen-Cutler, the Methodist group — which URJ officials have declined to name — pulled out of the deal when the expected sale of one of its churches did not materialize.

Efforts to sell Camp Swig began a decade ago, shortly after a second, much larger camp was acquired 120 miles north in Santa Rosa. Press reports at the time described the facility as dilapidated and in need of $2 million in repairs. Among other things, the site was said to require new sewage and water systems and a retrofitting against earthquakes, owing to its location atop a seismic fault. An offer was made by a local developer, and a counter-bid was attempted by the Jewish federation in nearby San Jose, but both fell through. Since then, no major renovations have been undertaken.

Last April, nearly 800 alumni staged a reunion at the camp to bid farewell and demonstrate their attachment to the site. The subsequent collapse of the sale to the Methodist group was greeted warmly by alumni and HaMakom organizers alike.

“We are obviously delighted with the opportunity that we’ve been presented, and we are in the process of reconstituting our group,” said attorney Steve Krause, 38, a HaMakom leader and Camp Swig alumnus. “The activities of the union to this point and the frustrations we’ve had with them are all really water under the bridge.”

Krause said, however, that it is unclear whether the $5 million offer, which was put up by an anonymous donor, still stands.


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