Former Tawonga head takes new position at Hazon

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Former longtime Camp Tawonga director Deborah Newbrun has signed on as the new Bay Area director of Jewish environmental nonprofit Hazon.

She said the national, New York–based agency — which, among other things, organizes bike rides, Torah hikes and food conferences — represents the best of both worlds.

“It takes Jews who love their Judaism and exposes them to nature and the outdoors,” Newbrun said, “and it takes nature enthusiasts and connects them to their Judaism.”

Her first order of business was to join a 36-mile bicycle ride Sept. 3 with Hazon’s New York contingent. The ride went through the Hudson River Valley in New York, and since it was Shabbat, Newbrun led an observational kabbalistic nature hike.

As the director of Camp Tawonga for 25 years, until 2006, Newbrun has immense experience leading outdoor Bay Area groups. Now settled in her Hazon position, she’s been eager to get to work on new ideas and projects.

Deborah Newbrun

One in the works is a free monthly nature hike with a Jewish theme. She recently conducted an online survey to gauge interest in the hikes and received all favorable responses. 

Another idea is reaching out to b’nai mitzvah students to join the San Francisco bicycle ride over Mother’s Day weekend in 2011 in order to raise money for their mitzvah projects.

Hazon says it is America’s largest Jewish environmental group, and that entails more than just outdoor activities, Newbrun pointed out. Food justice is a major factor, she said, and it’s also the aspect of the agency she has been most excited to learn about.

Newbrun, who also worked recently as associate director of the JCC of San Francisco and the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, lives in San Francisco with her two sons. She says both of them have been pushing her to take a bigger interest in food justice. Her 10-year-old son read the young adult book “Chew on This,” about the dangers of fast foods, and now he refuses to eat at fast food or chain restaurants.

Newbrun has reluctantly followed his lead. “I come from a wilderness education,” she said. “My approach to a Jewish environmental ethic was to take people outside — this is taking another step, when humans are in partnership with the land.”

Hazon’s annual winter food justice conference will be held Dec. 23 and 24 at Walker Creek Ranch near Petaluma. This time around, the conference will include a lecture by author Sue Fishkoff (“Kosher Nation”), knife sharpening demonstrations, kashrut discussions and a make-your-own chocolate babka workshop.

Newbrun also is planning to add a second Hazon food conference every year — summer 2011 will be the first — so that even more people can participate.