A blast at the beach for Rosh Hashanah

More than 1,000 people armed with picnic baskets and lawn chairs gathered at McNears Beach in San Rafael for a musical celebration — including a communal shofar “blast off” — on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

The Oct. 2 event, hosted by Camp Tawonga, was a multigenerational celebration where participants were able to mark the start of the new year with the community, even if they didn’t belong to a synagogue.

Event co-founder Deborah Newbrun (top) sounds the shofar at Erev Rosh Hashanah celebration that drew over 1,000 people to the beachside park in San Rafael.

Organizers said the 1,147 attendees made it the largest gathering of any kind in the history of 91-year-old Camp Tawonga, located outside Yosemite National Park. The outdoor celebration began with the Jewish community group Tilden Minyan in 2008, and Tawonga took it over four years ago.

“We started this outdoor service because we wanted to explore the messages of the Jewish new year together in nature. What began with 15 friends grew to over 1,000 people today,” said Deborah Newbrun, a co-founder of the event and a former executive director of Tawonga. “It turns out many people seek to pray and connect and sing in nature.”