OSRUI Is In My Blood: A Camp Memoir

This is a guest post by Bet Shalom rabbi David Locketz.
This past week I spent a couple of very quick and very cold days at a Midwinter Faculty meeting at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, WI. Bet Shalom has a long history with OSRUI. Rabbi Cohen and I both spend time at OSRUI each summer, on the faculty, working with the campers and staff members to help make camp the extraordinary place that it is. Rabbi Cohen has been on faculty for over 25 years.  I too have been going to OSRUI for more than 25 years. Yes… I realize I am not old enough to have been on faculty that long… but I first went to camp during the summer of 1985. You can see me waiting early in the morning at the old Greyhound Bus Station to begin my first camp adventure (In those days we took the Greyhound…now camp sends a private bus!).
Since that summer in 1985, I think I have only missed 4 or 5 summers. I have been a camper in almost every program at camp, was a counselor and song leader for several years during college, served for three years as Assistant Director before entering rabbinical school, and will be returning this coming summer for my ninth year as a member of the faculty. There’s no doubt about it; OSRUI is in my blood. It is a home away from home for me. My children have no memory of not going to camp. And it has to be mentioned that my wife Debbie and I met at camp. The photo below is from 1998 at camp, a year after we started dating.
I guess you could say we are OSRUI poster children. But we are not unique. There are hundreds of stories just like ours.
It is sometimes hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced Jewish summer camping what is so great about it. It is one of the only places outside of Israel where Judaism is completely integrated into everyday life. So while kids are having the experience of a lifetime doing campy stuff like boating, climbing the Alpine Tower, playing sports of every kind, swimming, playing Capture the Flag, doing specialty activities like cooking, photography, dancing and drama, and just messing around with newly made lifelong friends… they are also learning Hebrew words, singing Jewish songs, and learning Jewish ideas and values. And they don’t even realize how much they are learning!
I know there are lots of great Jewish camps. I don’t mean to take away from any of the experiences many of you have had at Herzl, Camp Chi or any of the others. We at Bet Shalom love it when our kids go to Jewish camp, regardless of the camp. But OSRUI is our camp, both because it is the official camp of the Reform Movement in our region and for the particularly special relationship we have with it. If Bet Shalom built a camp in Minneapolis it would look and feel just like OSRUI.
I am so grateful my parents sent my sister and me to camp when they did. The funny thing is that they weren’t so sure they were going to send us at all. My dad originally wanted me to go the sailing camp he had attended when he was a kid. Such is the pull our childhood camp has on us, even as adults. But Rabbi Howard Jaffe (formerly of Temple Israel) approached my parents after services one Friday night and told them that we really ought to go to OSRUI. And ever since I have been a rabbi, I have tried to follow his example and spread the word as far and wide as I can.
It is cold in Minnesota right now…but it is time to think about summer and there are still a few spaces left in Oconomowoc for your child. Go to their website www.osrui.org and watch the video. Then come find me at Bet Shalom and I’ll tell you all about it!
Rabbi David Locketz is a rabbi at Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka. This post has been adapted from the blog he writes for Bet Shalom.