While each canceled plan and new variant tested our collective will, we look back on 2021 with so much gratitude. Camp re-opened with gusto after the loss of our entire 2020 summer season. Thousands of campers, families and staff returned to Tawonga – to the beauty of natural wonders, joyous Judaism and each other. Down the mountain, our resonant local programs – both in-person and virtual – brought meaning to our pandemic-fraught new normal.
This report highlights the many remarkable accomplishments of 2021. Charting completely unfamiliar territory, we were able to implement effective COVID protocols that kept our entire Camp community safe. Not one COVID case!
We welcomed new Tawongans into the fold at our first Jewish Families of Color Weekend and long-anticipated Women’s Weekend. Both new affinity spaces widened the Tawonga tent. Our commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) also deepened with a new JEDI fellowship for young adults, ongoing anti-racism trainings for our staff and a comprehensive equity audit of the agency. The goal of making Tawonga a sacred space for everyone is within closer reach.
The thirst for connection swept across the Bay as well. We gathered virtually for tot Shabbats and in-person (1,400 strong!) for our annual Erev Rosh Hashanah Celebration. And as the Tawonga Bar, Bat and B’nai Mitzvah program entered its sixth year, our students and their families discovered the essence of this Jewish tradition, Tawonga style.
Throughout 2021, we marveled at the generosity of our community. Together, we raised critical funds to stabilize Tawonga’s operating budget and renovate our cherished campsite. The Campaign to Preserve and Protect Tawonga, the agency’s first large-scale capital initiative, is nearing its $17 million goal.
We also witnessed the emotional depth of our community last year. The tragic death of beloved Tawonga counselor and former camper Eli Kane shook us to the core. So many Tawongans came together to honor Eli’s memory and hold space for searing grief. Eli and his family remain in our thoughts and his legacy continues to inspire us to lean into joy.
Whether you currently participate in Tawonga programs, reflect on transformative Camp experiences as an alum or watch the magic from a distance, we hope you’ll feel proud of the impact we created together in 2021. Thank you for your partnership and dedication to Camp.
Tawonga provides a haven of acceptance, loving Jewish community and the freeing space to be authentic for campers, staff and families. After our canceled 2020 season – and over a year of pandemic-induced isolation, Zoom fatigue and widespread anxiety – our community couldn’t wait to soak up all the Tawonga magic upon reopening. Chief Program Officer and Camp Director Becca Meyer describes campers reuniting last summer as “sheer joy.”
Adopting hundreds of new health and safety protocols and guided by our COVID-19 Task Force, we are proud that Tawonga remained COVID-free all season long (as seen on KTVU!). From backpacking adventures and Shabbat celebrations to stargazing and challenge course triumphs, campers were transformed by Tawonga’s mission all season – endlessly supported by our superb and dedicated summer staff team. And as one long-time camper reflected in this amazing college application personal statement, the “values so embedded in the veins of Tawonga” inspire people to connect to each other, community and Judaism.
Fostering a culture of full inclusion, Camp endured as a space for young people to feel safe and express their authentic selves; our All-Gender cabin initiative, launched in 2019, continued last season in the form of two bunks and will be offered for the 2022 season as well.
Amidst the growth and joy, our community was rocked by the death of beloved Tawonga counselor and long-time camper Eli Kane. Eli was a lover of life, community builder, bright light and beautiful spirit; he was also an incredible counselor. The Tawonga community – and particularly our staff alumni – showed up at Camp’s gates at a moment’s notice to offer support so that our 2021 staff could grieve. Donations to the Eli Kane Fund will provide grants to nonprofits and create community programs that represent the spirit of Eli.
Campers learn about the value of giving back every summer, understanding that community members donate to Camp so that children can experience Tawonga who might not otherwise have had the chance. All campers write notes of appreciation to our donors – below are some to enjoy:
There is no greater gift. . .
“There is no greater gift in my daughter’s life than Tawonga. How much it has enriched her life and helped her learn and grow – it absolutely takes my breath away.”
– Tawonga parent
I want to express my immense gratitude. . .
“I want to express my immense gratitude for what Oren experienced as a trip of a lifetime. He returned from his Quest with a sense of deep belonging and increased confidence in his abilities. His counselors were phenomenal, and he felt closely bonded with each of his peers. He was brimming with stories of adventure and discovery upon his return. I am overjoyed about the whole experience.”
– Yael Stiles, Tawonga parent
There’s no way to know. . .
“There’s no way to know, when you wave your brave but anxiety-filled child away on a bus departing for Camp Tawonga for the first time (at nearly 16!), how her experience will transpire. I hoped that she would come home filled with the heart-warming magic that made me fall in love with the camp more than 40 years ago and return nearly 10 years later as staff … When she got off the bus today, it was immediately obvious that she was wholeheartedly, passionately, and unabashedly a full-blown Tawongan! You created such a joyous, caring, celebratory, loving, safe experience for my daughter. With all my heart, thank you so much.”
– Erika Lenkert, Tawonga parent
After enduring the challenges of 2020, families came to Tawonga’s season of weekend programs in 2021 craving community and connection like never before. Through six magical extended weekends – including our first-ever Women’s Weekend and inaugural Jewish Families of Color program – a total of nearly 1,000 participants immersed themselves in Camp’s joyful brand of Judaism and experienced the Tawonga mission in all its glory.
Camp Sisterhood, Grown Up
A decades-long dream realized, Tawonga’s first Women’s Weekend in September 2021 left many participants transformed and giddy with camper-like glee.
“This Women’s Weekend was nothing less than magical.”
“I felt like I belonged. The crafts, the joy, the dancing til midnight. Especially after this rough year and a half, that was the most fun I’ve had in as long as I can remember.”
Highlights included a powerful, cleansing mikvah in the Tuolumne River, the passing of Tawonga’s Torah from the eldest to youngest participant and an intimate concert of female performers sharing their talents. Take a closer peek in this reflection. Women’s Weekend 2022 will double the capacity of its first iteration.
Meanwhile, our Keshet LGBTQ Weekend ran for the 23rd time, with a broadening make-up of families, at full capacity and with full hearts.
“Keshet has changed and grown as our community has changed and grown,” reflected long-time Keshet mom Sue Reinhold (and wife of Keshet founder Deborah Newbrun) in this poignant piece. “It is more racially diverse than before. Trans and gender-expansive kids attend Keshet with their straight cisgender parents. There are more gay dads coming with their kids than ever.”
Providing affinity spaces like Keshet and our Jewish Families of Color Weekend to celebrate and center the experiences of more families and individuals who haven’t always felt seen by the organized Jewish community will remain mission critical for Tawonga (read more about our Jewish Families of Color Weekend in the JEDI section below).
Tawonga’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) initiative, which launched in 2019, remained a top priority for the agency in 2021. Tawonga is committed to advancing the pursuit of racial justice at all levels of our organization.
Through a JEDI Fellowship for young adults, in-depth trainings for our board, year-round team and summer staff, a brand-new Jewish Families of Color Weekend and an equity audit to guide it all, we continued the work of refining how every aspect of what we do can better center and empower more families and individuals of Color.
Introducing The JEDI Fellowship
The launch of our 2021 JEDI Fellowship was a great success! Twenty fellows, nearly half of whom identify as People of Color, participated in five two-hour workshops in order to build leadership skills and grow into change-makers. They learned about a variety of topics, including identity reflection focused on power and privilege, rooting racial justice work in Jewish values, Indigenous solidarity, multiracial Jewish Peoplehood and how to discuss social justice and peace building with children. Read a reflection by JEDI Fellow and summer staff member Mae Sarah here.
“The JEDI Fellowship was the most meaningful racial justice learning experience I’ve ever had. Tawonga has created a space where real vulnerability, solidarity, and coalition can be formed, and this is exactly the type of work I hope will change our culture for the better!”
The Power of Affinity Space for Jews of Color
Our first-ever Jewish Families of Color Weekend this past fall was attended by 16 families, some new to Tawonga entirely. Read an article in the Forward by one of the weekend’s guest educators, Jordan Daniels, that highlights the spiritual importance of affinity spaces.
“That is what the whole weekend has felt like, a breath, an opening of the heart.”
Learning from Partners
This year the organization took a deeper dive with the consulting organization Justice Outside, which conducted an extensive equity audit and shared subsequent findings and recommendations that are currently shaping our next steps in many areas ranging from expanding staff trainings to reevaluating our white-dominant culture.
While the world entered a second year of social distancing and isolation, connection to community became even more important. Whether through collective dancing onscreen to Oseh Shalom during virtual Tot Shabbats with Isaac Zones, or in person at our Erev Rosh Hashanah Celebration among the redwoods of Oakland, our community showed that Tawonga is more than just the physical site in the Sierras. It is also a feeling, a connection and a joyousness that can be carried “down the mountain.”
As community members of all ages emerged from behind the screens to join together in parks, gardens and community centers over the course of the year, we found that the Tawonga bond knows no bounds.
Erev Rosh Hashanah Celebration Participants Reflect
“Especially after the difficult year we’ve all experienced, it was profoundly meaningful to gather for a celebration together outside.”
“This event succeeds in bringing the magic and the spirit of Tawonga down the mountain and into our city lives. I am grateful for the chance to be with that community.”
Parents Kvell Over Tot Shabbats
“Thank you for bringing the magic of Camp Tawonga songs into our home through these wonderful Tot Shabbats.”
“Celebrating Shabbat virtually with Camp Tawonga has been a highlight for our family and has helped our kids feel connected to Camp.”
“My kids always look forward to Isaac’s engaging Tot Shabbats. As a parent, I appreciate how they are connecting to Judaism in a way that is inclusive, engaging and fun.”
B’nai Mitzvah, Tawonga Style
Tawonga’s Bar, Bat & B’nai Mitzvah Program entered its sixth year in 2021 and again brought much needed connection and Jewish teaching to our students in a hybrid virtual and in-person model. With 144 students enrolled, the San Francisco and East Bay cohorts engaged with Tawonga’s holistic approach to the B’nai Mitzvah experience that brings an undeniable summer camp flair.
Whether learning the Mourner’s Kaddish, conceptualizing their mitzvah projects or joyously singing Mi Chamocha, our students are encouraged to connect with and celebrate their own Jewish identity. Groups in San Francisco and the East Bay slowly transitioned to meeting in-person in the Fall for monthly kitot (classes), Shabbats and family gatherings. By incorporating nature, community building, social justice and experiential Jewish learning into our program, we ensure this important milestone is individualized and accessible for each and every child.
Why is this program so impactful? One reason is that the vast majority of our students (around 85%) are from families who don’t belong to a synagogue. If not for this program, these students would likely miss out on this momentous Jewish rite of passage into adulthood.
Another reason this program is so powerful is the educators working with our students! In May of 2021, Tawonga’s Jewish Educator and lead B’nai Mitzvah teacher, Meg Adler, received the Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in the Jewish Communal and Experiential category. Mazel Tov Meg! Read this moving graduation speech Meg gave to send off our Spring 2021 B’nai Mitzvah grads!
“First, we are so grateful for the thoughtful, purposeful teaching. You are building context, providing a road map and asking why. Second, we are on this journey alongside our kid, and in community. This connection is so appreciated. Third, our kid feels seen. He is at that age where the pressure to fit in and conform is huge, and yet he feels great being himself, and comes home happy.”
– Anne Dolid, Parent of B’nai Mitzvah student Asher
New ‘Down the Mountain’ Programs
Tawonga Teaches Hebrew?
As a companion to the B’nai Mitzvah Program, Tawonga began offering a two-part weekly Hebrew class in 2020, enabling students to deepen their comfort in and knowledge of Hebrew. In 2021, students met for one hour each week for 10 sessions, with assigned homework in between. In Hebrew 1, students learn the Hebrew alphabet, vowels and simple vocabulary – helping them to decode simple words and phrases. In Hebrew 2, students work in pairs to learn and practice over ten of the most common prayers and blessings. Since the launch of these classes in 2020, we have served a total of nearly 100 students!
Tawonga Family School
In 2021, a small cohort of nine families with young children (ages four to eight) participated in a pilot program called Tawonga Family School. The goal? To build Jewish community, deepen Jewish identities and expand Jewish knowledge through an innovative, Camp-style, monthly Saturday Shabbat cohort gathering. Centered around learning, bonding and fun, families explored Jewish values in personally meaningful and resonant ways while building deep relationships with one another. Good news – the pilot was such a success that we will be expanding the program for 2022 – stay tuned for more info in the coming months!
“Tawonga Family School has been an incredible experience for our whole family. We have all enjoyed making new Jewish connections and strengthening our relationship with our Jewish faith.”
– The Brody Family
Tawonga Alums Maintain the Magic
In 2021, with the leadership of Tawonga’s Alumni Board, our young adult cohort of 20- and 30-somethings gathered together across several meet-ups – both in-person and virtual – to offer and build community in the second oftentimes isolating year of the pandemic. In addition to helping to raise funds for Tawonga this past year, our Alumni Board also gained leadership experience and offered guidance to the agency on topics relevant to their life stage.
The Campaign to Preserve and Protect Tawonga
The Campaign to Preserve and Protect Tawonga, which launched in 2016, is the first large-scale capital campaign in Tawonga’s history – to renovate and update our rustic site in order to meet the pressing need of serving more people of all ages year-round.
We are 96% of the way to our $17 million goal – and have already replaced or renovated dozens of buildings at Camp.
New Health Center
One of those key building projects is Tawonga’s brand-new Health Center, whose doors opened for our 2021 season. Timing was fortuitous to enjoy this state-of-the-art health facility amidst the increased health and safety protocols necessary to mitigate the risk of running Camp in a pandemic.
Fully winterized for year-round use, this modern facility includes an upstairs clinic with a nurse’s office, three patient exam spaces, five patient recovery rooms (with an isolation area) and a medical staff bedroom. A doctor’s suite and additional staff housing are downstairs. The new rooms increase enrollment capacity and offset persistent waitlists for our Family Camp Weekends.
Four Remaining Capital Projects
We need broad community support to close this gap in order to build these last four projects!
The addition of the Dining Pavilion reduced the space available near the stage at the Golden Triangle (Camp’s central gathering area). Solution? Our Buildings and Grounds team built a beautiful new stage at the Moadone, where there is plenty of space. From performing at talent shows to gathering larger groups, all 2021 season long, this new area really took center stage! With ample space for campers and families to stretch their comfort zones and build self esteem during talent show acts, the Moadone Stage will help deliver mission moments for years to come.
This coming season, campers and families will be doing their tie-dye and shrinky dinks on a new Arts & Crafts deck! This spacious patio area off the A&C building was expanded in 2006 to make room for our growing Camp community. In 2021, Tawonga’s year-round Buildings & Grounds crew replaced the aging deck with brand new cedar planks.
For the 2021 season, Tawonga rented a large tent to serve as our Dining Pavillion in the Golden Triangle (central gathering area). Implemented with COVID safety in mind, we wanted to ensure that our community could eat outdoors in an open air environment. The Dining Pavilion offered a spacious area for mealtimes that allowed our campers and families to feel connected to nature. We’re looking forward to another season in 2022 enjoying delicious Tawonga fare in the Dining Pavilion!
Why does Tawonga fundraise?
Program fees cover only 80% of the true cost of the camper experience – Dollars raised provide innovative programming, award financial assistance and maintain our 160-acre site. Donations bridge that gap and make Tawonga accessible to more families who would otherwise not be able to afford Camp.
As Tawonga expands program offerings and increases the number of people served each year, our annual budget also grows to keep pace. In 2020, our amazing donors who gave to the Tawonga Together Campaign helped keep Tawonga afloat when we had to cancel our season due to COVID-19.
Through individual, foundation and corporate giving, Tawonga raised $1,893,285 in 2021. Thank you to our dedicated community for your generosity.
A Parent Shares the Impact of Their Child’s Campership Awards
Dear Camp Tawonga Team,
I wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. . .
. . .This is my son’s 6th year at Camp Tawonga, and he said it was the best one so far.
Every year that he gets off that bus, I feel the health, confidence and wholeness that he gains from being at Camp radiating off his very being. He talked about the training he received in his 3.5 weeks as a Counselor In Training (CIT), and it is clear to me the incredible time, energy, wisdom and love that goes into everything you do to support campers and train future leaders. The purpose, structure and heart that is modeled is exceptional, and something that I know he will continue to carry into all areas of his life.
Especially after this crazy and difficult year, I feel incredibly grateful for the health and normalcy Camp Tawonga has been able to create and provide.
Our ability to send our child to camp each of these 6 years has been because of the scholarships Camp Tawonga provides. Please convey my deep and humble thanks to those who have contributed so that my son may attend.
Thank you, thank you!!!
– Campership Parent
Tawonga donors to both the capital campaign and annual fund share why they choose to support Camp.
The Kletter Family
We Give Because….
We want Tawonga to be available for the next 100 years for everyone. We want more people to benefit from Tawonga because it creates critical thinkers who care about people and the world. Tawonga prioritizes community, but also imparts the importance of being true to yourself.
Our Wish for Tawonga Is…
To continue to connect kids and families to nature, Judaism and self-confidence. To provide screen-free summers and build community. To give kids a safe space so they can figure out who they are.
The Peña-Hallinan Family
We Give Because….
I want to give back and to do my part now that I am in a position to give, just like others did before me – which made my Tawonga experience possible in the first place.
Tawonga is part of who I am. The roots of my being are always in Tawonga. The lessons and values that I gained from having fun under the Yosemite sun for three weeks every summer as a kid are so ingrained in how I see the world, and in the life and lessons I seek to pass to my own child.
The Azus Family
We Give Because….
With the current pressures and challenges that our youth face, they need and deserve a safe, invigorating diversion. That diversion is Tawonga. We supported the capital campaign because adding solar, a sustainable garden, and updating infrastructure will enhance an already unforgettable Tawonga experience.
For many of us, Tawonga was the first time our kids were away from home. The transformation was clear: uncertainty and apprehension on the bus ride to camp – confidence and spirituality on the way back.
Annual Donors – It’s All Thanks to You!
The individuals, families and organizations who give to Tawonga’s Annual Fund deserve all the credit. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many children, families and young adults. None of this would be possible without your support!
Institutional Donors and Community Partners
Thank you to the following foundation donors and community partners who help make our programs possible:
Tawonga Together LIVE 2021!
Our Tawonga Together LIVE 2021 concert on April 11, 2021 marked Camp Tawonga’s 95th anniversary, bringing together generations of Tawongans for a joyful virtual celebration while raising critical funds for Camp. . .
Over 1,000 people on nearly 400 screens tuned in – thank you to all of you who joined us! Our amazing song leaders, musicians and hosts created a truly special program for our community to reconnect with one another, reflect on our history and celebrate our future.
Thank you to our donors and sponsors for their incredible support, which enabled us to surpass our $300,000 event goal, bringing our grand total to $372,100!
Relive the fun with some stories, songs and shtick from the event!
Tawonga Legacy Society
Our Legacy Society members secure Camp’s future by including Tawonga in their will, trust, retirement account or life insurance policy.
Legacy Spotlight: Larry Cahn, z”l
As a child, Larry attended Camp Ojibwa in Wisconsin. Many of his happiest childhood memories came from the years he spent there. One year, he could not attend because his father had suffered a heart attack, and there were financial constraints. The camp director contacted Larry’s parents asking why he had not yet enrolled in camp for the summer. His parents explained the circumstances, and the director invited Larry to come as his guest…
Read more about Larry’s life
Larry’s generosity, compassion for others and creative mind will remain key contributions of a life well lived. His legacy will give many children and adults the opportunity to become a part of the Tawonga family. May his memory always be a blessing.
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