By Danya Axelrad-Hausman
When a transformational chapter in life – like summer camp – comes to an end, it can feel like a big loss. As campers and staff members, we forge the deepest of friendships, explore our identities and find a sense of true belonging unlike anywhere else. While most of us eventually “age out” of camp, Tawonga alumni don’t see their final summer as an ending, but instead, as a launching pad.
On Friday, November 3, nearly 100 Tawonga alums, mostly in their 20s and 30s, gathered in 10 cities across the country for the first-ever Tawonga@Home Alumni Shabbat. Organized by the Young Alumni Board (YAB) and hosted by YAB members and other alumni, a broad swath of Tawongans and their friends gathered for a memorable evening of Jewish community, reuniting and, of course, really good food.
“Young alumni exist all over the world and are constantly moving,” noted YAB Co-Chair Perry Fox. “That’s why we wanted to create an experience for our alumni wherever they happened to be to gathered and reconnect with each other.”
On the West Coast, Tawongans hosted Shabbats all over the Bay Area as well as in Santa Cruz and Portland. Alumni also gathered in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
In Oakland, Perry hosted a Shabbat with a theme of reconnection, hoping to welcome back alumni who had left the Tawonga fold. Some guests hadn’t been to camp in over a decade. Over the course of the night, the group bonded over shared experiences and indelible memories.
Perry reflected, “This was an incredibly special evening for me personally because I got to open my home and cook a meal for former campers, former co-staffers and even one former bunkmate whom I will forever think of as my sister even if we were in G-10 over 12 years ago.”
A few miles away, in Alameda, Meg and Turk Adler brought together family members, current Tawonga year-round staff, alumni, their partners and a future Tawongan (age two). It was a wine tasting-themed Shabbat dinner with a Tawonga playlist adding lots of ruach (spirit). “It was the perfect release from the week,” shared Meg.
Meanwhile, 630 miles north in Portland, Oregon, Tawongans and their friends dined on a classic at-camp Tawonga Shabbat dinner of chicken, rice, tofu, vegetables and pie, capping the night off with an oneg. Host and YAB member Ben Gershen said the tone of the night was “delightful, celebratory, nostalgic, Tawongan.”
The timing of these gatherings gave alumni an opportunity to come together one week after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Before chanting the Shabbat prayers, some hosts invited reflection on the shooting. One alum said that a highlight of the evening was “getting together with a warm, loving community after a difficult week, and being able to acknowledge the Pittsburgh shootings and honor the victims together.”
Many guests noted the importance of community during this post-camp, pre-family period of life. “The best part of the night was feeling Tawonga away from camp, engaging with other Jewish adults and actually having the space to engage with my Judaism with people my age,” one guest shared.
Perry hopes Tawonga and YAB can hold annual gatherings like this one to bring Tawongans together wherever they are. “It was the highlight of my experience as a young alumni thus far,” she said.
Though these alumni may have aged out of being campers and counselors, they haven’t outgrown appreciating their Tawonga community. “Even though some people didn’t know each other prior to the dinner or hadn’t seen each other for a long time, everyone felt connected through Tawonga,” shared YAB member Chelsea Kaufman.
At the end of the night, Tawongans and friends parted ways, many with hopes to establish regular gatherings in their cities. “We all felt like, ‘Wow. This is exactly what I need in my life right now,” Ben shared. “‘Let’s do more of it. I’ll host next month!’”
Danya Axelrad-Hausman is Camp Tawonga’s Program and Communications Assistant and worked on Tawonga’s summer staff in the wilderness department.
To stay connected to Tawonga’s alumni community, join the Tawonga Young Alumni Facebook Group for the latest happenings in the community, career opportunities, and other resources. If we don’t have your current contact information, please fill out this form so you can stay in the loop.
Tawonga’s Young Alumni Board first launched in 2016 and is comprised of alumni in their mid-20s to mid-30s who organize alumni engagement and events which, until now, have primarily taken place in the Bay Area. YAB also organizes an annual Social Justice Seder for alumni and friends. You can learn more about the board here.