Teens spend summer in Love family’s footsteps at Camp Kalsman near Arlington

ARLINGTON — Where the children of the Love Israel commune once played, kids from Jewish families from throughout the region are attending summer camp.

The landscape has changed. Many of the Love family’s ragtag dwellings are gone. Yurts still stand on the property, but they are new and reserved for the use of teenage campers.

Now in its second summer season, Camp Kalsman is located southeast of Arlington on the 300 acres once owned by the Love family, a counterculture religious and communal group that was a fixture in the Arlington area for about 20 years.

Kids at the camp, run by the Union for Reform Judaism, play among the mature orchards, canoe on the property’s lakes and ride mountain bikes in its forests. They harvest herbs and vegetables from the camp’s long-established gardens and walk in the shade of its grape arbors.

Whatever one may say about them, said camp director David Berkman, Love Israel family members were good stewards of the property, and their former farm is a benefit to all who attend Kalsman.

In its heyday, the Love family numbered 300, and for many years it opened up the ranch for an annual garlic festival, an event that attracted thousands.

Most of the Love family’s buildings at the compound, however, did not meet building codes and were razed to make way for new construction, Berkman said.

Much of what defined the site’s former use as a commune is gone. There are new cabins, offices, a dining hall and craft center, an outdoor worship amphitheater, soccer and softball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, a swimming pool, and a 50-foot alpine climbing tower.

One of the buildings left by the Love Israel family is a house that was to be used as a bed-and-breakfast establishment. Camp Kalsman uses it as a retreat center and a place where visiting rabbis stay.

Recently, camper Shoshana Glickman, 12, of Seattle had to put up with the presence of her dad, a rabbi who was on staff to lead religious education classes and worship.

But no mind, Shoshana said; she loves camp, and besides, Dad was only there for one week.

At Kalsman she likes to sing, make art projects and hang out with her new friends.

“It’s cool that everyone here is Jewish,” Shoshana said. “Even at my temple there are not as many kids, and at school I’m always having to explain stuff about my religion.”

The Union for Reform Judaism purchased the property for $4.2 million in late 2003 after Love Israel declared bankruptcy. It cost about $21 million to build the camp and get it ready to open in 2007. The camp is named for the late Red and Lee Kalsman, a Los Angeles couple who made a bequest to promote Union for Reform Judaism camping on the West Coast. Parents pay anywhere from less than $1,000 to more than $2,000 to send their children to the camp.

For its inaugural season, the camp each week played host to 90 children and teens, from second-graders to those heading into their senior year of high school. This year, 150 campers a week are at Kalsman over a stretch of about nine weeks. During the next six to 10 years, the Union plans to add housing to accommodate 360 campers a week, Berkman said.

About 65 percent of the kids at the camp come from the Tacoma-Seattle-Everett region, the director said. Others hail from Vancouver, B.C.; Portland, Ore.; and smaller cities in Montana, Idaho and Alaska.

Though Everett’s Jewish congregation currently is without a rabbi, Seattle and the Pacific Northwest region have the fastest-growing Jewish population in North America, Berkman said.

“Clearly there was a need in the Reform community for this camp, and it’s clearly a demand that will grow,” Berkman said. The Union owns 11 other camps around the country, several of which are more than 50 years old, and all of which offer religious, cultural and recreational experiences, he said.

Berkman, 33, is in the middle of weeks of long days as camp director. During the winter, his office is in Seattle, where he does camper and staff recruiting. About 35 young adults from across the country serve as program directors and counselors.

Several of the office, kitchen and maintenance employees are from the Arlington area, including Leslie Wargo, who works as an office manager.

“I’ve been really impressed with the staff here,” Wargo said. “I enjoy all the young people.”

As she prepared to mail letters from campers to their parents, Wargo reminisced briefly about the Love Israel family and their time in the Arlington area.

“It’s a lot different now,” she said.

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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