Beloved Malibu summer camps destroyed in Woolsey Fire

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California burned more than 97,000 acres, forced over 260,000 people to evacuate, destroyed around 435 homes, and damaged two Jewish summer camps: Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop camp. The camps, owned by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, have been in the hills of Malibu for over 65 years.

The camps were founded in 1952 by Rabbi Alfred Wolf, who escaped Nazi Germany. He created the camps that serve the community in more ways than just for campers over the summer. They’re used year-round by various groups like the Los Angeles Unified School District, Wounded Warriors, a Korean church called Church Everyday, the Latino youth conference and Camp Harmony.

Camper Zachary Gordon, who starred in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is still in shock over the damage to his second home. There are no words to accurately paint the hundreds of great memories I’ve experienced at camp or the bonds I’ve created. While I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities and experiences I’ve had within the film industry, Hess Kramer gave me the tools to navigate life after Wimpy Kid, tools I still use today in my everyday life. It’s a magical place where you can be the best version of yourself, unfiltered and unapologetic,” Gordon told the Hollywood Reporter.

For Tracy Kopulsky, previous camper and counselor, the loss from the Woolsey Fire really hit home. Camp was more than just a summer camp for Kopulsky. Tracy and her brother Craig literally wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for camp.

Photo credit: Tracy Kopulsky
Photo credit: Tracy Kopulsky

Her parents, Rhonda Peterman Kopulsky and Michael Kopulsky, met at camp and then sent Tracy when she was old enough. “I can’t remember a time when CHK wasn’t part of my consciousness. My parents gave me the gift of Camp Hess Kramer, an eternal pillar of my life, and I look forward to rebuilding and doing the same for my children one day.”

While 87 of the 97 buildings of the camps were destroyed, the community plans to rebuild. The camps released a statement saying, “Despite these losses, we know in our hearts that camp is what happens inside and around buildings, not the buildings themselves. Fire cannot destroy memories. Camp has always been about community; about the who and the what, not the where.”

A recovery fund has been set up for the camps. To donate, visit the website.