Few places and experiences are a blueprint for living. Tawonga is one of those few.
I was hired to work at Camp Tawonga after a phone interview in 1982. I lived on the East Coast, had never worked at a camp, didn’t know anything about the Sierra mountains and wasn’t even Jewish. I had no real idea what to expect, but my boyfriend, who had worked at Camp the previous summer, said it was a great place – and that was good enough for me.
From the moment I arrived at the parking lot of the Brotherway Way JCC preschool in San Francisco for the long bus ride up to staff training, I was welcomed with open arms into what would become arguably the most important and influential community of my life. You could say that Camp Tawonga has influenced every aspect of my life and continues to do so.
Staff training was a revelation to me. By the end of one week, we had built a community! I remember thinking, “How did we do that?” The key, I discovered, was that it wasn’t one approach for the staff and then something different when campers arrived. The same principles applied, meaning we didn’t just talk the talk – we walked it everyday.
Tawonga opened my eyes to Judaism and ultimately led to my conversion. (Having been raised by atheist parents where all religion was suspect, the journey took some time!) I still remember the special feeling during our Shabbat strolls, one community entering into the Sabbath together. During Havdalah, among campers and staff with the sun setting, I experienced true spiritual awareness for the first time. Tikkun Olam, the reasonable concept that we can and are called upon to engage in making the world better, was the most hopeful philosophy of life I had ever encountered.
The people I met that summer included my husband, Eric, and others who became lifelong friends. The habits I learned about working with people, solving problems and being a positive role model have shaped my interactions with co-workers, friends, family, employers and institutions ever since.
When I think of my family’s involvement with Camp, I see that every decade brings change and a different way of relating to this special place. Eric and his brother were campers in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s Eric and I worked as Tawonga staff in many roles. During the 1990’s our personal involvement lessened as we built careers and started a family. That was the decade when family camps developed that extend Camp’s reach and impact – the result of the planning and guidance of staff and dedicated board members. In the 2000’s our children began attending Tawonga. It is no exaggeration to say that Camp was the highlight of the year for both our boys. In the 2010’s, our older son served on the summer staff twice. Our younger son plans to follow in his (and our) footsteps.
Watching Camp grow as an organization that affects the lives of so many continues to excite and delight. Joining the Legacy Society is our way of helping to keep Camp strong and growing for future generations.
Little did I know 36 years ago that Camp Tawonga would cast its spell on me. I’m so happy to be as firmly under its sway as ever!
Growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s with my mother and brother we had plenty of love but not a lot of money. When I was 8 my mother found out about Camp Tawonga and was able to get camperships for my brother and me. Heading off to camp for 3 weeks away from home was a scary experience! Upon arrival at camp I quickly made new friends and found a missing part of my life – a new home-away-from-home. I came back to camp each summer and looked forward to being at Tawonga all year long. I reveled in being part of a bunk and learned to love Yosemite, being part of a Jewish community and the experience of living in nature.
I attended a special winter session at Tawonga when I was 12. We ventured into Yosemite Valley and in a freak toboggan accident I broke my arm. After the doctors at the Yosemite clinic set and casted my arm, the Tawonga staff told me that I would be driven back to San Francisco. “But the session is not over!” I cried. Despite having to maneuver around with a cast on my arm I insisted on staying at camp for the rest of the session and getting the complete Tawonga experience.
As I got older and working at camp for 6 summers, I realized that camp would always be part of my life. I was fortunate to meet my future wife at camp. When it was time for us to plan our wedding the only logical place for our ceremony was Tawonga. After discussing the possibilities and realizing our wedding guests would need to sleep in bunk-beds we settled for the next best option – Yosemite Valley. Being on staff at camp helped me gain confidence in myself and learn the joy of being with other young adults. Being a counselor at camp was the best job I ever had!
Our sons Josh and Alex were both campers at Tawonga from the first summer they were old enough to attend. They too grew to love camp and found their own home-away-from-home. Josh went on to be a counselor at camp and shares stories of his own camp experiences. I feel blessed that I was able to pass my love for Camp Tawonga to the next generation.