May His Memory Be a Blessing
Dear Tawonga Community,
No words can adequately express the sadness I feel in sharing with you that this morning Ken Kramarz passed away after navigating cancer for two years. He was surrounded by family in his music-filled Larkspur home. This is a heartbreaking loss for Tawonga, the Jewish community and the world.

Ken was Camp Tawonga's beloved executive director for 30 years, and he was the essence of Tawonga. So many of the values and philosophies rooted in our Tawonga culture were seeded by Ken. He turned our campsite into a sacred home away from home. He was our teacher, our leader and our friend. 

Ken began working at Tawonga in 1981, seeking a job he could “give his whole heart to.” He made good on that plan. If you love Tawonga, if your family loves Tawonga, if your friends love Tawonga – you have Ken to thank. If your child was ever a Tawonga camper or summer staffer, and today is an adult who is resilient, accepting and compassionate – know that Ken played a part. Tawonga has evolved into the extraordinary community it is today because of Ken’s brilliant vision for our mission and tireless commitment to it. Countless lives of all ages are better because of Ken.

If you love Tawonga’s close-knit cooperative community, know that it was Ken who inspired it. He knew how to build community in deep and meaningful ways. Ken created our staff “Canon of Ethics” – a set of principles that serve as the foundation of what it means to work at Tawonga, the blueprint for our cooperative community. If you ever notice a Tawonga counselor waiting patiently while Tawonga campers put food on their plates – that’s Ken’s mantra at play: “The children always come first.” If you ever observe how decisions are made by consensus at Camp – how all voices count – that came from Ken.

If you love how it feels to be at Camp, immersed in stunning nature, it is because of Ken’s thoughtful stewardship of the land. It was Ken who successfully led an effort in the 1980s to lobby the US Forest Service against allowing the clearcutting of the forest opposite of Camp on Sawmill Mountain. It was Ken who implored us to embrace the ongoing work of acknowledging and honoring the Miwok People who came before us. It was Ken’s steadfast management of our Buildings & Grounds work that led to tremendous upgrades like our expanded Dining Hall and Central Bathhouse. Ken had his hand in the smaller details, too. The brown paint color on every Tawonga building retains a seamless, rustic aesthetic across Camp – again, all Ken.  

Ken’s favorite ethic from the Canon was “Shared space means shared responsibility.” One summer about five years ago, Ken and I were singing “Friends, friends, friends” to close out a campfire. Afterwards, a young camper asked me why the janitor was singing with us. He was referring to Ken. Forever modeling that “shared space means shared responsibility,” Ken could often be found picking up pieces of trash around Camp. 

This story may help to synthesize the immense impact Ken had on Tawonga: About ten years ago, representatives from the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) visited Tawonga as a last stop on their tour of camps across the country. At the end of their visit, the Board chair asked, “What’s in Tawonga’s water?” He wanted to know how Tawonga became so special.

I didn’t quite know how to answer him at the time. In hindsight, I realized it was Ken. Ken’s extraordinary leadership, kindness, intentionality, authenticity and ruach (spirit) were in the water, creating a ripple effect for our entire community. In “giving his whole heart to Tawonga” all those decades ago, Ken transformed a community, and we will forever stand on his shoulders. 

This summer, when I see campers singing and praying at Makom Shalom, our outdoor sanctuary, I will remember Ken’s wisdom, his heart and his many teachings. I will always feel grateful to have known him, to have learned from him and to have called him my friend.

As we open our camp season, let’s hold Ken in our hearts and follow his example. Let’s embrace the present, cherish our time together and make each moment matter. 

I will miss Ken dearly, but will feel his legacy in our work, our mission and our loving community. 
Grieving Together & How You Can Support
Ken touched so many lives in our community, and there are many more stories to share. Ken’s funeral will be for close friends and family. If you would like to stay informed about the shiva, please email info@tawonga.org. Toward the end of the summer, Tawonga will be holding a celebration of life for Ken, open to the entire community. We will send details in the coming weeks.

If you would like to share a memory or story about Ken, or how he impacted your life or the life of a loved one, we encourage you to do so here. Reflections will be visible to the public. Thank you for sharing.

You can send letters for Ken’s family to our office at: 131 Steuart Street, Suite 460, San Francisco, CA 94105. Please address them to Camp Tawonga, Kramarz Family. We will be sure to forward these along.

Please join me in sending Ken’s family healing prayers during this time of deep loss. May Ken’s memory forever be a blessing.
In the bond of Tawongans,


Jamie Simon
Chief Executive Officer
P.S. You can listen to Ken share with humor and passion how Tawonga came into his life in this interview he gave in 2020.