“I have always been enrolled in some kind of Jewish learning, either at my synagogue or elsewhere. And much of what I learned, I turned around and taught at camp. Sometimes I had to work hard to get underneath what I was learning to find the real meaning for myself. Once I’d done that, it was easy to figure out how to teach it. Each day I feel blessed that I get to go outside and do my work.”
Deborah Newbrun is the Senior Jewish Educator and Director Emeritus at Camp Tawonga in San Francisco, California. A leading practitioner in the field of Jewish camping, Ms. Newbrun served as full-time Director at Tawonga from 1984-2006.
During her tenure, she turned Tawonga into one of the country’s premier Jewish educational summer camps, infusing camp life with Jewish learning and a philosophy that Jewish education can happen everywhere, on and off the hiking trail. With a hands-on approach, Ms. Newbrun has shown a generation of campers how to breathe new life into their Jewish identity and created a new design for Jewish outdoor education. While at Tawonga, Ms. Newbrun also launched Keshet Camp, the first Jewish LGBT family weekend in the country.
Using Camp Tawonga as her laboratory, Ms. Newbrun became a pioneer in the Jewish Outdoor Food and Environmental Education (JOFEE) movement, constantly searching for ways to infuse Jewish learning with the radical wonder inherent in our natural landscape.
In 2015, Ms. Newbrun received funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation to create JOLT (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Training) and has since taught four-day JOLT retreats for Jewish summer camp staff around the country. In addition to honing participants’ skills in practical wilderness leadership, the retreats also focus on showing camp leaders how to teach Judaism outdoors.
As a faculty member for the Lekhu Lakhem program through the JCC Association and Foundation for Jewish Camp, Ms. Newbrun co-leads camp directors on three-day retreats during which she trains them in Jewish programming, advises them on creating prayer spaces at camp and helps them envision new ritual traditions.
From 2010-2014, Ms. Newbrun served as the Bay Area Director for Hazon, where she facilitated educational programs including bringing in synagogue speakers, running shmita celebrations, family cooking programs, and Jewish themed nature hikes. She also oversaw the annual California fund raising Environmental Bike Rides, national and local food festivals, fund raising, and the hiring, supervision and mentorship of young adult program associates.
In 2000, Ms. Newbrun co-authored Spirit in Nature/Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail, a hiking guidebook that instructs Jewish educators on how to teach natural history and helps naturalists teach Jewish values.
Ms. Newbrun received her BA in American Studies and Environmental Studies from the University of California in Santa Cruz and her California Teaching Credentials from UC Berkeley. From 1998-2000, Ms. Newbrun was a Jewish Family Education Fellow through the Jewish Learning Works program.
From Her Letters of Nomination and Support
“Deborah put Jewish education at the center of Jewish camps that didn’t see themselves as places of Jewish education. She understands that Jewish education can and should happen literally every moment. She turned Camp Tawonga into one of the country’s premier Jewish educational camps, one with a Jewish neshama apparent to all.”
Rabbi Benay Lappe
Executive Director and Rosh Yeshiva
2017 Covenant Award Recipient
“Deborah’s teaching is grounded in the Jewish traditions of baal tashchit (protecting the environment) and tza’ar balei chayim (respecting animals). She provides opportunities to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the outdoors and to learn about the vital role each of us plays in repairing the world.”
Dr. Debbie Findling
Strategic Philanthropy Advisor
Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund
“Deborah is a pillar of the field, yet she carries herself with deep humility – and with a restless drive to make experiential education more effective and inclusive. Her mind crackles with ideas and insights. She asks the difficult questions, and then supports you as you wrestle with the answers and their implications.”
Camp Alonim of American Jewish University
“When I worked for Deborah as a counselor at Camp Tawonga, she showed me a new path of Jewish community, identity, and hands-on learning I hadn’t imagined. She blazed a trail, touched a generation of campers, and created a national fountainhead of inspiration for new Jewish leadership and education design.”
Director of Youth Philanthropy
Jewish Community Federation
of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma Counties