Alumni Spotlight: Rachael Kirk-Cortez
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“Getting married under the Tawonga chuppah poles was an absolute must. As soon as we set a date, I reached out to Camp.”

Rachael is a former camper and staff member, as well as a current member of Tawonga’s Young Alumni Board (YAB), making her a “Tawonga Lifer.” When planning their wedding last year, Rachael and her husband Matthew were thrilled to incorporate meaningful symbols into their ceremony. Just a few months after saying “I do,” she brought Matthew to Camp for an Alumni Weekend so that he could see firsthand what makes Tawonga so special.

As a young camper, Rachael formed some of her deepest friendships that she maintains to this day. Tawonga also encouraged Rachael to step out of her comfort zone through the backpacking program.  “Now,” as she says, “nature is my happy place.”

The impact deepened when she became a staff member.  “As a kid, the mission of Tawonga is something you simply experience. Then once you join the staff, the intention becomes crystal clear.” Rachael learned how to be a thoughtful leader and how to develop a strong community, and started asking questions like “Who do I want to be? How can I be intentional in my behavior and treatment of others?”

Rachael chose to dedicate her time to Tawonga by being a founding member of the Tawonga Young Alumni Board (YAB), where she currently serves as a co-chair. “I saw this as an opportunity to create a Jewish community that I want to be a part of now and used to have when I was a camper. I missed Tawonga, and being a young working professional, there weren’t tons of opportunities to connect to Camp before YAB.”

Rachael, along with many of her friends, sees Tawonga as her ideal way of practicing Judaism. YAB currently puts on several events throughout the year, from a Passover seder to Shabbat gatherings and open mic nights.

In addition to helping alumni to engage and reconnect with Tawonga, YAB members also step up to support Camp financially. Rachael is a dedicated monthly donor to the Campership Fund. “Tawonga teaches kids to be good people. By donating, I help that mission by allowing more kids to come to Camp. I’m hopeful that these kids will shape the type of world that I want to live in.”

Rachael is excited for her future with Tawonga at every stage of life. “This is not the end of my Tawonga journey, ” she reflected, hoping to stay connected down the road perhaps as a board member, and likely attending Family Camp with Matt and little campers of their own.

At their wedding, under the canopy held up by the Tawonga chuppah poles, with so many Tawongans’ names burned into the wood, Rachael felt a deep comfort and connection to her Jewish community: “Camp was right there with me.”

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