Tawonga's incoming CEO Rebecca Meyer (left) with outgoing CEO Jamie Simon. (Photo/Courtesy Camp Tawonga)
Tawonga's incoming CEO Rebecca Meyer (left) with outgoing CEO Jamie Simon. (Photo/Courtesy Camp Tawonga)

Rebecca Meyer, longtime Camp Tawonga leader, named new CEO

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The path that led Rebecca Meyer to become CEO of Camp Tawonga began with a walk in the woods.

It was back in the summer of 2004, while she was working her first job at the popular Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park. Meyer asked her boss, then camp director Deborah Newbrun, to take a stroll.

“I said to her, ‘I need some career advice. I’m not sure what I should do with my life,’” Meyer recalled in an interview. “Deborah said, ‘I think you would be an outstanding camp director.’”

Eighteen years later that hunch has come true. Next month, Meyer, 45, officially takes the helm as CEO, replacing 17-year Tawonga veteran Jamie Simon, who is leaving to become chief program officer at the Foundation for Jewish Camps.

“This is what organizations dream of,” said Meyer, who most recently served as Tawonga’s chief program officer. “Having a succession plan and having it play out when a beloved leader like Jamie is ready to move on. We’ve been working together for 15 years, running the camp day in and day out. So when I move into this role as CEO, I’ve never been more prepared for a job.”

In a press release, Simon said, “Working with Becca these past 15 years has been a highlight of my career. She is immensely talented, and I leave Tawonga confident that it is in the most capable hands. Becca is an extraordinary professional, and there is no doubt Camp Tawonga will thrive under Becca’s leadership.”

Aaron Mandel
Aaron Mandel

In addition to Meyer’s promotion, Aaron Mandel, who currently serves as Tawonga’s senior director, will become camp director.

A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Meyer attended summer camps throughout her childhood. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in comparative literature but found herself drawn to working with kids.

After her first job as a unit head for Tawonga, Meyer next worked for Camp Walt Whitman in New Hampshire. She returned to Tawonga in 2007 to become assistant director, running the camp’s wilderness program. In 2015, she was named camp director, and from there she was promoted to chief program officer, overseeing Tawonga’s year-round programming.

During her tenure, Meyer lobbied to expand inclusivity, having introduced Tawonga’s all-gender cabins. She managed such activities as the b’nai mitzvah program, backpacking, the Adventure Quest wilderness program for grades 7-10, family camp, transportation and medical care.

As Meyer takes on her new post, another year-round Tawonga staffer, Kiyomi Gelber, will step into the newly created role of senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion. The camp is also poised to hire new employees thanks to a recent capital campaign that raised more than $17 million.

After so many years at Tawonga, Meyer knows why she feels the place is so special. “I get to see every year how it transforms lives,” she said. “I see children and staff discover who they are, and I see them explore aspects of their identity they wouldn’t have necessarily realized without camp. I see them building self-confidence, resilience and independence, making lifelong friendships.”

The camp’s Jewish character also matters, she said, noting the long-term impact Jewish camping has on the vitality of the broader Jewish community.

“There’s such a hunger in the Bay Area for people to connect with their Jewish roots, to explore their Judaism and spirituality,” Meyer said. “Tawonga is a Jewish home for many families who aren’t affiliated with a synagogue. By going to camp, people forge these lasting relationships, and it knits the Bay Area Jewish community more strongly. They sat on the same benches, looked at the same vistas and sang the same songs around the campfire.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.