Love is gone for good

ARLINGTON – The barn once called “The Sanctuary” is gone.

Dan Bates / The Herald

Miriam Bensky of the Union for Reform Judaism looks out from atop a moss-covered rock that overlooks the former Love Israel property near Arlington. The Israels called the spot “meditation knoll.”

So are almost all of the 50 or so homes, yurts and other hippie villas built during the three decades the followers of Love Israel lived communally at this 300-acre country haven.

Soon to rise in their place will be camp cabins, a mess hall, swimming pool, an arts center, a climbing tower – all of the things required for a summer camp.

Facing accumulated debts, the Israels sold the property for $4.2 million two years ago to one of North America’s major Jewish denominations, the Union for Reform Judaism.

The group decided to tear down almost all the existing buildings because the structures had been put up without proper building permits. A demolition firm that specializes in recycling building materials was brought in last fall to salvage as much as possible.

Now, with the demolition out of the way, the group is set to begin construction to convert the property into a $19.2 million summer camp.

Camp Kalsman will fill a need in the Northwest, said the camp’s fundraising director, Miriam Bensky, as she walked around the property. The Union for Reform Judaism already has 12 summer camps in the U.S., but the closest is in Northern California.

“Eventually, we hope to have more than a thousand kids come through over a summer,” Bensky said.

The group has raised $13.6 million – enough to break ground this summer and open by summer 2007, Bensky said. Locally, she added, Temple Beth Or in Everett has set itself the challenge of raising $250,000.

Remodeling has already begun on one of the few buildings left standing, an ornate, spacious home the Israels built in recent years near the property’s entrance.

The Israels built it as a bed and breakfast, but construction crews are reconfiguring the rooms and stairways to turn it into a retreat center for Jewish learning, Bensky said.

In the summer, visiting faculty and rabbis will be able to stay in the house with their families. With nine bedroom suites, it will have room for 20 people to sleep. The house’s woodwork and extensive wrap-around porches and decks exude a welcoming air.

While the focus is on summer programs, the retreat center, as well as a few of the 16 cabins to be built, will be winterized to allow for off-season use, Bensky said.

By summer 2007, 20 buildings are planned to be up and running, Bensky said. Others include a 500-person dining hall, a staff center and a pavilion.

A pool and climbing tower are also planned, as well as outdoor gathering spots for group worship, private meditation, sports, boating and other activities.

Depending on how the fundraising goes, expansion plans include a performing arts center and a building for ceramic arts.

Aside from the buildings, for Bensky, the camp’s natural setting of serene fields amid wooded hills makes it special.

“The land really sells itself,” Bensky said.

She talked excitedly about the hands-on environmental education possibilities offered by a place with forest trails, a cool waterfall and ponds.

“When you talk to some of the kids about the camp, they ask if there are any wild animals,” Bensky said.

A little later, a bald eagle flapped through the sun in a slow, wide arc across Butterfly Lake.

“The possibilities of learning about nature … that’s what makes this place so incredible,” Bensky said.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@ heraldnet.com.

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