Dear Friend,

2023 was a remarkable year of navigating both familiar and unfamiliar terrain. Up and down the mountain, thousands of children, families and adults of all ages soaked up the magic of Tawonga. They found joy in Jewish ritual, the wonder of nature and loving connections with each other.

Although we have many wonderful milestones to share, it would be impossible not to acknowledge that 2023 was also the year we witnessed the horrific terrorist attacks on Israel, the beginning of the tragic Israel-Hamas war and the insidious rise of antisemitism  – which continue to shake us to the core. The impact has been devastating — and has challenged our own Tawonga family. 

Times like these reaffirm the importance of Tawonga and the increased need to gather in loving Jewish community. We know that feeling a sense of belonging, building self-esteem, fostering a positive Jewish identity and connecting to nature – our timeless mission – matter more than ever.

Inspiring mission moments marked every program of the past year and shine throughout this 2023 Impact Report. From summer camp to family camp, epic teen programs to adult weekend retreats, the vision of Tawonga as a year-round, lifelong experience came to fruition.

Tawonga ruach (spirit) also swept across the Bay, infusing Jewish joy and meaning into our local community. The award-winning Tawonga Bar, Bat & B’nai Mitzvah Program entered its eighth year and Tawonga Family School, our newest Jewish education program for unaffiliated young families, expanded its reach.

All of these moments were made possible by the profound generosity of our supporters. In whatever ways Tawonga has touched your life – whether it’s first-hand or from a distance – we hope you’ll take stock of the life-defining impact we created together in 2023. Thank you for your dedication to Camp. We are deeply grateful for your partnership.

Warmly,

Becca Meyer
Chief Executive Officer

 

Tali Levy
Tawonga Board President

Tawonga’s 2023 summer was filled with plain old FUN, free from screens, extracurricular pressure and test anxiety. Kids got to be kids within an unconditionally loving, supportive and accepting Jewish community. This inclusivity lays the groundwork for connection – with each other, with the larger community and with something greater than ourselves. Nina S., a Session 2 camper, described her powerful and spiritual experience at Camp in this way: “I was overwhelmed with awe. It was so meaningful to discover a strong connection to myself, the people around me, and the natural world. I have realized that these moments when I get to be part of something greater than myself happen so rarely.” 

 

The Talmud of Tawonga

The 2023 season also debuted a brand-new Tawonga songbook – an instant classic with campers during raucous song sessions and soulful serenades on back porches. The songbook, which was last updated all the way back in 2009, now features newer voices, particularly female artists. Read more from Aaron Mandel, who also made a fabulous debut this summer – as Camp Director – after 15 years honing program leadership skills on the year-round team. 

TLI 2.0


Forty-seven teens participated in our freshly revamped Teen Leadership Institute (TLI) program for rising 11th graders. They started out in Portland, Oregon to dive into community service projects at Dignity Village, the nation’s only city-sanctioned, self-supported and governed houseless encampment. The next week, they focused on challenging themselves and building community in nature. From mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting, the teens adventured hard! Capping up the program, they spent their final week at Tawonga for an exuberant homecoming. Full of Tawonga ruach (spirit), this group of teens formed epic bonds together, and we can’t wait to welcome them to Camp this coming summer in our SCIT program. More here.

My kids had The.Best.Experience this summer. They are non-stop talking about camp, the travel, the activities, your partners, and — specifically, the TLI team. Kudos to Camp Tawonga for the special kind of people you hire and bring into this community. To the training you provide, awareness, and love you share.2023 TLI Parent

Jewish Routes, Wild Routes


A total of 73 “Questers” experienced Tawonga on the road in 2023. They climbed over boulders, paddled through rivers and caught waves during our 7 exhilarating Quest adventures. Each trip was an opportunity to accomplish physical goals, develop deep friendships and encounter the magnificence of nature. Quest leaders experienced their own highlights as well: “My favorite part of leading Quests is all the spontaneous moments that occur,” explained Quest leaders Sarah and David. “On Sierra Slam, this included stopping on the side of the road at Sonora Pass to have an hour-long snowball fight. Or stopping for a bathroom break on the way to Tahoe and having a four-minute dance party on the jungle gym at the rest stop. None of these moments are planned but all are highlights.” More here.

A heartfelt thank you for taking such good care of my kid this summer. Nobody gets through their teen years without a bit of heartache and tears, but my daughter walked away with new friends and old. Every summer she has grown. That’s what we wanted. She is stronger. She considers camp a safe place, and I’m so grateful.2023 Camper Parent

 

In 2023, Tawonga hosted a record-breaking 12 weekend programs, where nearly 2,000 people of all ages experienced the magic of Camp’s mission surrounded by Jewish community and immersed in the beauty of the Sierras. From affinity space adult retreats to family camps spanning from May to December, weekend wonder abounded!

Building Brotherhood

Our first-ever Men’s Weekend brought together 66 men of all ages – fathers, sons, uncles and even old Tawonga bunkmates – to unplug from the daily grind and reconnect on a deeper level. Activities ranged from fun pickup basketball games to meaningful somatic workshops, a lively Shabbat celebration and a hilarious open-mic talent show.

By creating a space where participants felt comfortable being vulnerable, this program allowed men to meaningfully reflect on their masculinity. It was three days of camaraderie, self-discovery and transformative experiences.

“I didn’t know how much I needed this weekend until I arrived. It reconnected me with who I was 15-20 years ago when I spent my summers at Camp, and helped me think about how I want to bring the ruach (spirit) of Tawonga into my life now. I will be back next year, and have so many male friends and family members that I hope to bring with me.” – Charlie Berman (Read more)

Trail Mix and Torah: Family Camps

In response to the growing demand for more family camps, Tawonga has expanded its offerings with vital support for JFAM Weekends (for families with young children) from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Maimonides Fund. We witnessed new families connecting for the first time, along with heartwarming homecomings for many Tawonga alumni who are now bringing their own young families back to experience the magic of Camp. 2023 also saw a new record for the highest number of babies at Camp at one time: 20 tots under the age of two!

“I grew up at Camp Tawonga, as a camper and a counselor. Getting to be there as a parent and see my child start the same journey towards confidence, lifelong friendships, environmental awareness and love of nature and the outdoors, and Jewish identity is precious. I spend all year looking forward to it, every year.” – Jacob Leland

Going 25 years strong, our Keshet LGBTQ+ Family Camp continues to fill year after year with a growing, vibrant community of families:

“Keshet weekend at Tawonga is such a magical experience. The power of community is something so special. To watch our daughter flourish and make connections in such a small period of time was just incredible. To be surrounded by families that looked just like ours felt like home. To be in such a beautiful place surrounded by nature and spending quality time as an individual, as a family and as a couple all at the same time and place. I have no words, Keshet weekend just filled our hearts!”

These weekends were made even more special when they coincided with Jewish holidays. During Sukkot, families created lasting memories as they decorated and dined under the Tawonga Sukkah. Families also celebrated Simchat Torah at Camp, participating in re-rolling the ancient pages of Tawonga’s Vodnany Torah.

The generational connections forged during these family-centric weekends create our vibrant and enduring Jewish community. Tawonga is a place where memories are made, traditions are upheld and community bonds are strengthened.

 


Tawonga’s joyful brand of Judaism, originally hatched up at summer camp, continues to resonate “Down the Mountain” throughout the Bay Area at high holiday observances, tot shabbats, alumni reunions and more.

 

Down the Mountain
Data

Holy and Happy

Our Erev Rosh Hashanah Celebration in Oakland’s majestic woods serves as the annual pilgrimage of sorts for thousands of Tawongans; in September 1,389 people welcomed the Jewish New Year with our signature Tawonga ruach (spirit) and enthusiasm, accompanied by the joyous sounds of over 300 shofars crafted by the children in attendance. The sentiment was perfectly captured by an attendee who reported, “Tawonga rocks your soul.”

As many Tawonga families are unaffiliated with a synagogue and look to Camp as their spiritual center, back by popular demand was our Early Kol Nidre Service, where 250 Tawongans and friends attended for prayer, soul-searching and musical observance.

High Peaks to City Streets

As the winter unfolded, our community gathered for Chanukah, including a special event for our families of color, where 63 people came together to kindle the lights and celebrate. The season also witnessed two heartwarming reunions of former Tawonga summer staff. The gatherings, both for our younger staff and our “Old School” alumni, allowed generations of Tawongans to share stories, foster lifelong friendships and embrace the love that defines our unique tribe.

 

We often hear from Tawongans that they feel the most spiritually connected to Judaism when at Camp. Through our locally-based Jewish education programs – our B’nai Mitzvah program and Tawonga Family School – that resonant feeling is increasingly making its way down to the Bay Area.

Mitzvah Magic

Since 2016, Tawonga’s Bar, Bat & B’nai Mitzvah Program has left an indelible mark on our students, infusing this right of passage with the magic of Camp through experiential learning and connections with nature. Our innovative, award-winning B’nai Mitzvah program gives participants the tools to shape their own simchas (celebrations), honoring the uniqueness of each individual family.

Last year, our B’nai Mitzvah program enrolled its eighth cohort, totaling 134 students across San Francisco and the East Bay. That’s 223% more students than when the program first launched in 2016!

 

The result? More students are fostering meaningful connections with their Jewish identity, as echoed by these B’nai Mitzvah parents:

“Tawonga’s flexible and approachable program seemed right for our family at the outset, as we weren’t affiliated with a synagogue and were looking for a meaningful way to teach our son about his heritage. During the course of the b’nai mitzvah program he has really connected with his Jewish identity, in large part because of the tailored approach to Jewish learning and the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff. We wish there had been something like this when we were studying for our b’nai mizvot back in the 1980s. By starting off on this path, we are confident that a seed has been planted that will lead to lifelong Jewish pride and connection.
– Tawonga B’nai Mitzvah parent, 2023

“I just wanted to send you a brief note to say thank you for everything you and the other staff are doing with the Tawonga B’Mitzvah program.  We are really starting to see the magic of it all at this point – the kids’ and adults’ friendships are growing deeper, our son now understands the meaning of some of the prayers and the overall flow of the service, and for the first time he is asking to light Shabbat candles and singing out loud. We are so very grateful.”– Tawonga B’nai Mitzvah parent, 2023

In true Tawonga spirit, we continue to innovate Jewish learning, creating mitzvah magic that endures over a lifetime.

Tawonga Family School

Launched in 2021 as a havurah-style program fostering positive Jewish learning experiences for young families, Tawonga Family School has steadily grown over the past two years. Responding to the community’s call for more opportunities to gather, we doubled the number of cohorts offered in 2023. Over the course of 42 classes across the Bay Area, families absorbed Jewish knowledge, explored their Jewish identities and had a whole lot of fun!

Mazel Tov, Meg! 

Our Jewish education programs have thrived, thanks to the incredible leadership of Meg Adler, our talented Associate Director of Bay Area Programs. In 2023, Meg won the Jewish Learning Works’ Ruby Award as well as the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize for her excellence in Jewish youth education and her pivotal role in growing Tawonga’s B’nai Mitzvah program. Catch Meg sharing her insights on the Judaism Unbound Podcast or on her blog, “Turn It, Turn It” (also now a book!) for a deeper dive into her journey. We’re kvelling to have such a talented and passionate educator on our team!

Approaching our 100th anniversary, stewardship of Camp’s stunning property is one of our highest priorities. Each of the projects below reflects our commitment to providing the best possible facilities with the highest regard for the natural environment.

 

Tawonga Village in Action: Teen Territory

We were thrilled to unveil the new Tawonga Village in time for our 2023 summer season! A direct result of our incredible Capital Campaign donors, this latest addition to our site was designed primarily for Tawonga’s teens. Each session, we watched them unplug, bond and cultivate leadership skills in this magical space set apart from our younger campers. Now, nestled among the Manzanitas on the Ridge Side of Camp, are five new cozy cabins, an all-gender bathhouse and a communal programming area. One Teen Leadership Institute (TLI) participant shared, “I really love how Tawonga Village was designed with a hangout spot and with our own bathroom.” By increasing capacity not only for teens during the summer, but also for families and adults at our weekend programs throughout the year, Tawonga Village has brought our vision to serve more people, more often, to life.

Rising to the Challenge: Solar Power & Environmental Commitment

With the impacts of climate change looming large, we’re laser focused on protecting Camp’s ecosystem for future generations. That’s why we’re so excited about the upcoming installation of solar panels – a long-awaited milestone in our ongoing climate work. Each step towards renewable energy reduces our carbon footprint and inspires campers to become lifelong stewards of the earth. 

Cultivating Connections: The Garden Kitchen Sprouts

Construction is underway on our new Garden Kitchen, a natural companion to our flourishing garden. More culinary center than standalone kitchen, it will offer campers hands-on farm-to-table experiences where they can dig into sustainable farming practices, learn cooking skills from seasoned professionals and explore Jewish food traditions. From planting seeds to harvesting ingredients, campers will embark on a journey of discovery, forging connections with the land, nature and each other. Get ready to taste the fruits of our labor in 2025 when Tawonga’s Garden Kitchen nourishes both body and soul.


Ensuring that Tawonga feels like home to everyone remained mission critical in 2023. We doubled down on our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) work to advance unconditional belonging and widen the Tawonga tent. Kiyomi Gelber, who identifies as a Jew of Color, is leading initiatives at all levels of the organization to create a sustainable equity culture and build a JEDI model for the field of Jewish camping.

Affinity and Beyond!

Our identity-based affinity spaces flourished. More children and adults who feel marginalized both in their daily lives and the broader Jewish community connected in ways they didn’t know were possible. These reflections capture the impact:

“As a person of color, it was so beautiful to just show up as myself and not have to worry about whether I fit in. I felt like I found a place of belonging.”

 

“A highlight was making new friends who seemed a lot like me.”

 

“I felt like I could have a big exhale, not just because of the beautiful nature, but for feeling like, ahhh, my people are all around.”

  • Over the summer, 30 campers across the gender spectrum lived in our three all-gender cabins. This pioneering initiative has encouraged them to embrace their authentic selves.
  • Summer staff opted into weekly affinity spaces for people of color (participation soared!), concluding with a “Rest & Relaxation” event for staff of color that focused on appreciation and self-care.
  • In August, we hosted our Jewish Families of Color Weekend for the third year in a row. This intentional space for Jewish families of color continued to center and celebrate our multiethnic and multiracial Jewish community.
  • At year’s end, more than 60 people came together for our light-filled Families of Color Chanukah celebration!

Our JEDI work also included anti-racism training for our year-round team, Board and summer staff. Our Indigenous solidarity work continued as well. On July 25, Tawonga hosted its second annual Land Gathering at Camp, inviting our Miwok neighbors to lead educational experiences and explore the history of the land with staff and teen campers while sharing our own Jewish traditions.

In 2023, Tawonga continued the trajectory of expanding our programs in order to increase the reach of our vital mission. Accordingly, our annual operating budget has grown to keep pace with the increasing number of people participating in our offerings each year.

Growth of Tawonga’s Operating Budget

Why does Tawonga fundraise?

Program fees only cover approximately 80% of the full cost of the camper experience. Fundraising makes it possible for Tawonga to continually innovate our programming, award financial assistance and maintain our 160-acre site.

Through the generosity of our community, Tawonga raised $2,428,193 in 2023. Your commitment to Camp Tawonga has made a profound impact on the lives of so many children, young adults and families. Thanks to your contributions, we were able to create transformative experiences, foster deep connections with nature and build a vibrant community rooted in joy, inclusivity and Jewish values.

 

Camperships

We know that many families rely heavily on financial assistance to attend Tawonga programs. Our goal is for ALL children to be able to experience the magic of Camp, regardless of their family’s financial situation. This past year, campership support provided 518 children and families with the life-changing Tawonga experience of building friendships, self-esteem, community and a positive Jewish identity.

“Thanks to your financial assistance program, my son was able to go to camp for six continuous years, became a CIT and is now a Tawonga camp counselor giving back to the community. I am forever grateful for the financial aid and support Tawonga provided.  Camp Tawonga has always been and continues to be his happy place. The values, friendships, Jewish education and learned lessons continue with him as he is now away at college. He is flourishing and is an active member of the Hillel community at college.”

Thank You!

Heartfelt appreciation goes out to the amazing individuals, families, and organizations who generously donate to Tawonga’s Annual Fund. We simply couldn’t do this work without you.

Institutional Donors and Community Partners

Thank you to the following foundation donors and community partners who help make our programs possible:

 

Tawonga Legacy Society

Thank you to our Legacy Society members who secure Camp’s future by including Tawonga in their will, trust, retirement account or life insurance policy. See Legacy Society members below.

Tawonga Legacy Society members

Adam Alcabes Steve Gershik Ken* & Felicia Kramarz Norman Schlossberg
Anonymous Melinna Askin Gershik Marilyn* & Steve Lazar Renee Samson
Ari A. Baruth Jordan Gill Jessica Leo Randall Schwartz
Adam Berman Len Goldberg Josh Leslie Larissa (Lara) Siegel
Jen & Jon Boxerman Nicole Goldstein Roger M. Low Lori Silverstein
Gabrielle Bressack Ann Gonski* & John Scott Aaron Mandel Stella Sedletskaya
Barbara & Lawrence* Cahn Norm* & Squeek Grabstein* Rebecca L. Meyer Libby & Frank Silver
Steve Catechi Richard Grabstein & Harriette Unger Sydney Mintz Jamie Simon
Jessica Chizen Jeff Greendorfer Eva & Ernest Newbrun Katelyn Rose Simons
Heather Robert Coffman & David E. Coffman Harold Grinspoon Joyce Newstat Ben Simrin
Eleanor* & Ralph* Coffman Rabbi Sholom Groesberg* Barbara Niss Nora Smith
Cohen Family Robert Heller* Erick Ordin & Miriam Marx Ordin Diane Stern & Alejandro Quintana
Jessica Colvin Rachael Henderson Elise Peck Judy Stern & Dan Mihalovich
Kenneth* & Thelma Colvin* Jed Herman Brian Permutt Melanie Wartenberg
Ashley & Jamie Costello Sheila & Ned Himmel Avi & Sarah Perna Sharon & Joshua Weinberg
Ilana Drummond Yeva Johnson & Michael Potter Caitlin Quinn Adam Weisberg
Daniel Edelson Ryley Katz Eric Raznick & Tracey Erwin Marilyn* & Raymond Weisberg*
Susan & Bill Epstein Nina Kaufman & Dan Kaplan Sue Reinhold & Deborah Newbrun Lisa & Matthew Wertheim
Denise Feinsod Gene & Susan Kaufman Monica Pallie Rocchino Brian Wise
Philip & Lisa Feldman Rachael Kirk-Cortez Saul & Barbara Rockman Harold & Mary Zlot
Michael & Anna Fogelman Joseph & Leslie Kleitman Gregg Ivan Bernell Rubenstein
Darin Freitag Michelle & Sue Kletter John F. Sampson

*of blessed memory

 

Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors is an inspiring group of professionals. With their vision, guidance and leadership, Tawonga is in amazing hands. Get to know our Board here.

Remembering Ann

In 2023, we sadly lost beloved former Tawonga Director Ann Gonski. For over two decades, starting in 1986, Ann served as the vital backbone of our administrative functions. Her gentle leadership, dedication to social justice and commitment to camper care continue to influence our work today. Ann’s irreverent humor, quiet strength and unconditional compassion left a lasting imprint on all who knew her. Her memory and contributions to Tawonga are truly a blessing. Read about Ann’s legacy here

In Closing

Looking ahead to our 100th anniversary in 2025, our amazing, committed community has positioned Tawonga to thrive in the coming years. We couldn’t be more excited about Tawonga’s future and grateful for your partnership. Thank you for being a part of our loving, inclusive community.

As we sing at Tawonga to close out every campfire,
Shalom chaverim – goodbye friends, we’ll see you again!