As I have noted in the past, it was Rabbi Herman Schaalman, alav ha-shalom, who, so moved by his experiences of a Methodist Church camp years ago one summer in Iowa, set out to create a Reform Jewish Summer Camp. He wrote that, “on the invitation of the Jewish Chatauqua Society I participated in the Methodist summer camp in Clear Lake, Iowa. The impact of over 800 young people and 120 pastors interacting with each other in an informal setting was powerful. I decided then and there that we ought to have something like this for our own teenagers.” Rabbi Schaalman had a larger vision, a vision “to strengthen the intellectual, the instructional phase by putting in top quality and to develop fond emotional responses to Judaism, to make Judaism exciting, vibrant, beautiful, and maybe even, to some extent, romantic in the sense that we really wanted to have the whole person involved rather than just merely the educational aspect.” That was the beginning of our camp, of Olin- Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, the first and best of all of the URJ camps across the country.
That is camp’s strength – for two or four or even seven weeks, our children are immersed in an environment where Judaism is everywhere and everything and is not just two hours at the synagogue. In Chaim Potok’s poetic words, it is “education caught rather than taught.” Camp becomes a Jewish community. Jewish summer camp builds Jewish memories, warm memories, passionate memories, the memories of dreams, the memories that can create a Jewish life and can and has changed who we are.
That is why Rabbi Schaller and I care so deeply about Jewish summer camping. We know that those kids who attend Jewish summer camp truly become the leaders of our Jewish community in the future. And this is true of other Jewish summer camps also. A number of our kids will be at Interlaken this coming summer; others of our kids will be at camp Beber in Mukwonago. And we want every one of our children whose families wish them to be at camp to be able to go. We know that financing such summer programs can be problematic. But our congregation has campership assistance available through two funds – the Jack and Renee Dygola Campership and Education Fund to assist kids going to OSRUI and other camps affiliated with our Reform movement and the Michael K. Fefferman Campership Fund from our Brotherhood to assist kids going to other Jewish camps. Requests for scholarship assistance for camp should be directed to either Rabbi Schaller or to me. In addition, know that once our congregation grants scholarship assistance, additional scholarships will be available through OSRUI and through the Jewish Community Foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Again, we do not want finances to be a problem because we believe Jewish summer camp is so important. About a dozen of our kids will be at OSRUI this summer; two of them, Jesse Illian and Michelle Margolies, grew up at camp and now lead Tour La’Agam, the program which begins and ends at OSRUI but then involves a bicycle ride around Lake Michigan. Read all about the Camptastic Conference Day on December 17 in the next column; you can get and even more profound flavor of camp at our upcoming Congregational Family Retreat the weekend of February 23, 24, and 25 in 2018, at OSRUI. Join us then for a wonderful Shabbat and exciting and fun weekend.