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Mission and Philosophy

About Camp Tawonga

For over 90 years, Camp Tawonga has served as a leader in Jewish camping, fostering in children and families a deep connection to nature, community and Judaism within a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment. Tawonga runs programming for children, families and young adults at our premier residential Camp located outside Yosemite National Park as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. At Tawonga, children and teens build self esteem, make lifelong friends and discover their truest selves, supported by a dedicated and loving staff.


Yosemite-based programs include classic one to three week summer Camp sessions, adventure “quest” trips on the road, teen leadership sessions and four-day family Camp weekends. Bay Area programs are family-friendly and range from Jewish holiday celebrations and a two-year bar & bat mitzvah program to volunteer outings and Jewish heritage nights with local sports teams.

Our Mission

Camp Tawonga’s four-part mission has remained fundamentally unchanged since our inception in 1925.

jewish summer camp mission philosophy

This mission is our guiding philosophy at Tawonga and shapes everything we do—from the programs we facilitate to the way that we lead campers in daily activities.

While we do not overtly teach the mission to the campers, it is central to our staff training and is infused in every moment at Camp. In fact, many of our past campers reflect upon Tawonga’s mission in their staff interviews without realizing their experience so vividly mirrored our guiding principles.

At Camp Tawonga, we foster positive self-image and self-esteem, create a cooperative community, build a partnership with nature, and explore spirituality and positive Jewish identity in children.

1) Fostering positive self-image and self-esteem

Tawonga encourages positive growth in a nurturing environment. For our staff, this means the children always come first. It also means that counselors and all other staff are trained to focus on the needs of the individual child—to know and value all children for their unique talents and qualities.

Sleep-away camp is full of challenges—from being away from home to backpacking for the first time—and we believe that by supporting campers to succeed in these new challenges, we promote independence, growth, and self-esteem. Parents often tell us that their children return home at the end of a Tawonga program buoyed with greater self-esteem than when they arrived.

2) Creating a cooperative community


Living and playing together while sharing responsibilities in a community environment gives campers skills and insights that they bring home to future life experiences.

At Camp, this means we work together, collectively taking responsibility for our shared space, participating in consensus-based decision making, and learning to live with others. It also means that Tawonga counselors are kid specialists, with no secondary responsibilities outside their bunks, and are empowered to prioritize the quality of the group dynamic over any activity.


3) Tikkun Olam – A partnership with nature

In Hebrew, Tikkun Olam means to “repair the world.” At Tawonga, this means that children have an opportunity to connect with and appreciate the natural world, learning to become stewards of nature and extending that stewardship into care for the entire world around them.

Camp is a chance to “unplug,” literally and figuratively, and connect with nature. We have discussions on the grass, under the trees, and sometimes under the visible Milky Way and thousands of stars. While in the backcountry with experienced Wilderness Leaders, campers get real exposure to the outdoors. Our spectacular setting on the Tuolumne River, at the doorstep of Yosemite National Park, inspire a lifelong love and respect for the natural world. Campers learn to become advocates and stewards of the environment and return to their communities with a deeper appreciation for our natural resources.

4) Spirituality and positive Jewish identity

Tawonga infuses the Camp experience of fun, friendship and nature with a deep sense of spirituality. Judaism is incorporated into daily life at Camp and campers are immersed in the richness of Jewish culture through Hebrew words of the day, a thought-provoking Jewish theme for programming, musical Shabbat and Havdalah celebrations, storytelling, songs and blessings. Campers and staff alike are encouraged to find their own spiritual paths, and they return home feeling excited about Judaism and continuing the rituals and celebrations they experienced at Camp. Every Tawongan brings home the Jewish message that when we work together to make the world a better place, we enrich our relationships with our families, friends and communities.

Tawonga is a community where diversity is not merely tolerated but celebrated, so every camper feels welcomed regardless of where they are in the spectrum of Jewish identity, affiliation or knowledge, even if they are not Jewish.

Hear about the impact of the mission from our campers and parents.