The traditional Camp Tawonga Shabbat stroll at Keshet family camp, led by (left to right): Cantor Marsha Attie, Jennifer Spitzer, Deborah Newbrun and Maya Abramson (Photo/Kyle Lasky)
The traditional Camp Tawonga Shabbat stroll at Keshet family camp, led by (left to right): Cantor Marsha Attie, Jennifer Spitzer, Deborah Newbrun and Maya Abramson (Photo/Kyle Lasky)

Keshet celebrates 20th year of camp for LGBTQ families

The first year, only 15 families came. This year, 75 families showed up, and they had something special to celebrate: the 20th anniversary of Camp Keshet, a family camp for LGBTQ Jewish families held at Camp Tawonga that has become a Bay Area tradition.

“Keshet has made me more conscious and proud to be part of this queer family community,” said camper Paul Herman, who attends Keshet with his husband and twin daughters.

Like any Jewish family camp, Keshet (Hebrew for rainbow) has hiking or arts-and-crafts classes for kids and parents, communal Shabbats and other celebrations. In 1998, there weren’t many places set aside for queer Jewish families — and certainly no camps. But Tawonga’s then-director, Deborah Newbrun, knew there was a need: For her, it was personal.

“I needed a place as a young lesbian mother where my family could be in the majority and where we were not a spectacle,” Newbrun said.

So Keshet was born. The camp, held over four days at the end of each summer, has changed over the years. Originally for lesbian families, now it includes gay and transgender parents as well. It’s also no longer the only queer Jewish family camp in the country. As an indicator of its success, the camp has had a waitlist for the last three years.

This year, to commemorate the anniversary, there was a panel where older members of the camp talked about what it was like decades ago, both in the Jewish community and beyond.

For the kid campers, that’s ancient history, and the inclusive nature of Camp Keshet is the new normal. It’s a sign of the success the camp has had in working against the sense of isolation many queer families feel in the Jewish world.

“To be able to come to a place where we feel so comfortable and don’t have to be self-conscious is so important,” said camper Sharon Dulberg.