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A Jewish summer camp and retreat just north of Santa Rosa is in the midst of $30 million expansion that eventually will allow 13,000 visitors a year.

Camp Newman, which has been at the nearly 500-acre site on Mark West Springs Road since 1997, would become one of the largest such Jewish facilities on the West Coast.

The reconstruction includes renovation and addition of new cabins, a large dining hall, conference rooms, a wellness center and infrastructure improvements.

"We want to be around and relevant for the next 100 years," said Ari Vared, the camp's advancement director.

About $12 million has been raised through grants and community donors, including a $5 million grant from the camp's parent organization, the Union for Reform Judaism. The group just recently received $1 million from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

The property for decades was a culinary academy for the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards, and many of the 75-plus buildings on the campus are outdated.

"The facilities were getting tired, and we wanted to be able to serve the community better with more modern facilities," said Jim Heeger, chairman of the camp's master plan and construction committee. "Our goal is to invest now in a facility that will be here for the next two or three generations."

Investing in future generations is a large part of Camp Newman's goals, which are encapsulated by the phrase "I am my best self." The phrase came from one of the campers and became a slogan of sorts, said Vared.

Campers take part in a variety of philanthropic efforts, and learn how to understand and appreciate each other's differences, Vared said.

"What we do is kind of create an oasis in the world today, especially for kids," said Vared. "With the pressures of college and technology, we're seeing that we're becoming increasingly more important."

Campers are not allowed to bring electronic devices such as cell phones or iPods into the camp, and a large part of the program is centered on "making your mark."

"(Camp Newman) was the one constant thing I always had," said Danny Robinow, a counselor who attended the camp as a child. "(Now) as a counselor, I wanted to make my mark and give back to another generation in the same way."

Camp Newman began on the shores of Lake Tahoe in 1947 and is one of the largest Jewish summer camps in the West, said Vared.

Currently, the site houses a variety of facilities including a 350-seat dining hall, a small medical office, basketball courts, a swimming pool, community gardens, a zip-line, a library, soccer fields, a small conference center and a large outdoor amphitheater.

About 1,500 kids from third to 12th grade converge from across the nation to participate in programs during the summer, while an additional 3,500 adults and children use the property for off-season retreats, said Vared.

The $30 million expansion will allow the organization to serve 13,000 people a year, said Vared.

"We're focusing on rebuilding the core of camp, so we're not touching everything in this phase," said Vared.

Currently the group is building nine new lodges, which will include 16 cabins.

Robinow is looking forward to the new dining hall, which will grow from a current capacity of 350 to 700.

"I think the large multi-purpose space the dining hall will be, will create a real center of camp that will enrich our community," Robinow said.

Vared noted a variety of Jewish-led studies have shown that Jewish summer camp is one of the three primary keys to keeping the Jewish community alive.

"I believe that Jewish immersive experiences are going to continue to be the key," said Vared. "When you're here, you're understood differently and deeply."

Heeger, a parent whose children attended Camp Newman, agreed.

"One of the most important things to creating a Jewish identity for today is having a meaningful experience," he said. "Camp Newman is a place that provides that."

Staff Writer Melody Karpinski can be reached at 521-5205 or Melody. Karpinski@pressdemocrat.com.