Camp Tawonga celebrates 70 years with S.F. bash

Some said the evening felt like a family reunion. "It doesn't matter where we Tawonga alums gather — the feelings and culture of camp are always there," said Judy Stern, a past president who camped at Tawonga in the 1960s.

The evening began with blessings over the candles, wine and challah, led by camp song leader Jonathan Ferris. Following dinner came a slide show narrated by camp executive director Ken Kramarz. The presentation, which drew frequent laughs, featured pictures from the 1920s through the '60s and to the present. Among the images — pictures of a Janis Joplin concert at Tawonga.

"Those were pretty wild days" recalled Stern, a camper at the time.

Founded in 1926 by the B'nai B'rith and the YMHA, Tawonga originally operated near South Lake Tahoe in the towns of Quincy and Myers. Interrupted by World War II, the camp resumed operations in 1963 at a rustic new site on the Tuolumne River, next to Yosemite National Park. The new camp was financed by the so-called "old-timers," men and women who grew up attending the original camp.

Attending Friday's festivities were a number of those old-timers, some of whom commented on the impact the camp has had on their lives. "Today, five of my seven grandchildren are campers at Tawonga," said Colvin, past president of the Tawonga board.

Other past presidents at the event were Heller, Judy Stern, Susan Stern, Dr. Herbert Goodman, Howard Miller and Saul Rockman, all of whom were honored with "I Love Tawonga" teddy bears. Norm Schlossberg was also honored for his many years of service to Tawonga.

Seventy years ago, Tawonga was started as a camp for a handful of Jewish boys from San Francisco. Today, Tawonga hosts more than 1,000 Bay Area boys and girls each summer. But the essentials of the Tawonga experience have not changed over the years. The camp still combines Jewish pride, rugged back-to-nature camping, and traditional group-based social work.

"This 70th anniversary year has been especially festive," according to current board president Dov Grunschlag, "because Tawonga has just become an independent nonprofit agency." In recent weeks, in addition to letters of authorization from the Internal Revenue Service and the state of California, the camp received the deed to its property next to Yosemite.

Labor Day Weekend will bring the next big 70th anniversary celebration. The camp is hosting its first-ever adults-only weekend, a chance for adults to enjoy camp activities, without the kids. The weekend is open to all adults, but former campers and alumni staff are particularly urged to join the fun.

For information about the Labor Day weekend or other Tawonga programs, call the office at (415) KID-CAMP or (415) 543-2267.