The Bond of Tawongans
By our Camp Director, Rebecca Meyer
I am honored and thrilled to be the next Camp Director at Tawonga. I first fell in love with Tawonga in 2004 as a summer staff, impressed by the integrity, intentionality, and natural beauty I encountered at Camp. Since joining the year-round team in 2007, I have been inspired each day by our mission, our values, the incredible people I work with, and the amazing campers I get to know each summer.
It is a joy to serve with our soon-to-be Executive Director, Jamie Simon-Harris. Jamie and I have worked hand-in-hand on the year-round team for the past eight years. Jamie is a masterful leader who makes everyone around her better, and I love working with her. Ken Kramarz, who has been a teacher, mentor, and visionary as the agency’s Executive Director for 30 years, will continue to help us through the leadership transition and beyond. With the incredibly dedicated year-round team, the highly capable leadership of Associate Directors Aaron Mandel and Katie Quinn, and 180 phenomenal summer staff, we will continue to nurture the magic of Tawonga that has touched so many people over the past 90 years.
Growing up in New England, I attended summer camp in Maine for eight years. Camp was the first place where it seemed normal to be Jewish, where I realized I was not the only person with frizzy curls that could not be tamed, where I found my tribe. Lying under the stars at night with my friends sparked a deep connection with nature and forged the enduring bonds of camp friendships.
The relationships formed at camp have a special intensity. There are friends, and then there are camp friends. Living together 24/7, in an environment where we are free to be ourselves and encouraged to discover our best selves, allows uniquely authentic and powerful connections to form. As we sing around the campfire in the song, Stars in the Sky, “the friends you make become a part of you.” Having witnessed campers and staff stay in close touch for decades with the friends they made at camp, I know how deeply true this is.
As Associate Director, I have overseen Tawonga’s wilderness department, sending over 1,200 campers into Yosemite each year to climb to sweeping views of granite domes, to swim in icy mountain lakes and rivers, and to huddle together under the tarp at night. Faced with the challenges that arise in nature, our campers learn resilience, develop a personal connection with the natural world, and build those deep bonds of Tawongan friendship.
As Camp Director, I will work to make sure that campers leave not only with strong bonds of friendship, but with a deep sense of responsibility, knowing, “Tawonga is a promise, for you to keep.” At camp we always challenge our campers at the end of each session, and our staff at the end of each summer, to “take Tawonga home” and to help make Tawonga and the “real world” one and the same. Ever guided by our mission, we work tirelessly at Tawonga to empower people to be their best selves, to experience a sense of a belonging and responsibility as a member of a group, to fall in love with nature, and to tap into spirituality and deepen their Jewish identity. We believe that when we realize Tawonga’s mission, we make the world a better place. When campers leave at the end of every session, we know that they are not only taking their friendships with them, but they are taking these values with them as well.
I am immensely grateful that we have the opportunity to live in this idyllic community during the summer, but what do we do with that experience once we leave? We have a responsibility to go out and create those opportunities for others, to participate in tikkun olam, the healing of the world. Past President Ken Colvin, who started the Campership Fund, signed his letters, “In the bond of Tawongans,” a tradition which Ken Kramarz continues. This closing salutation always reminds me of the strong bonds of friendship and community formed at Camp, and reinforces the bond of obligation that we all have: to carry forward the gifts of Tawonga into the world.
With Jamie leaving her post as Camp Director, there are big shoes to fill! The humbling challenge is made easier, though, by the incredible roadmap that our Board of Directors has put into place over the last few years through a Strategic Plan and Master Site Plan that will help us share Tawonga with more people year-round, both at Camp and in the Bay Area. I am grateful to the board for their extraordinary leadership and vision.
Jamie Simon-Harris, Camp’s next Executive Director, is not only an incredible leader and colleague, but a wonderful friend — in fact, my camp friend. I can’t think of a better person to lead the agency forward. When we raise idealistic children, supported by strong relationships and instilled with a sense of responsibility, we do make the world a better place. I look forward to partnering with Jamie and with each of you in raising children who will fulfill Tawonga’s promise.