Bar Mitzvah Spotlight:

Eli Ehrlich

“One of my moms is Jewish, and the other is half Jewish. Tawonga is helping me connect to Judaism.”

12-year-old Eli Ehrlich had heard about Tawonga but had never been to Camp when his moms Jill and Susan signed him up for Tawonga’s new Bar & Bat Mitzvah Program, which launched its first class of 60 students in 2016. Eli describes his family as “not very religious.” “We’ve gone to a few Shabbat services and celebrate Jewish holidays, but that’s it.” Designed to bring families into the fold whose children might otherwise miss out on this rite of passage, this program applies Camp’s methodologies of cooperative community building and joyous Judaism in nature to the bar and bat mitzvah journey.

“It definitely helps me connect to Judaism,” Eli says of his classes and the program retreats. Since kids at his school in San Francisco don’t talk about Judaism, he appreciates “connecting to and understanding what being Jewish is like, which I’ve never really gotten to do before.”

Eli especially loves the focus of his Mitzvah Project, a key element of the program connecting students to community service opportunities. Eli is volunteering with a dog rescue shelter in the city. “It makes me feel really good to volunteer. I get to talk to families interested in the dogs, and help the dogs to be more social, which makes them more lovable and likely to get adopted.”

Contributing to his community and being in community with his Jewish peers has been an eye-opening experience for Eli. “I’m learning that being Jewish is a lot about family and friends and being together. We don’t have to be super religious; we can just be Jewish, and I like that.”

Looking ahead to his bar mitzvah service next year, which will be led by long-time Tawonga song leader Isaac Zones, Eli shared that he is “really excited for my service because it’s what I’m working up to. And I’m excited to continue finding my path to Judaism.”

Learn more about the Tawonga Bar & Bat Mitzvah Program here.