A 126-page report into misconduct at several Union for Reform Judaism Camps was released Thursday, detailing several incidents of sexual harassment by long-time OSRUI executive director Jerry Kaye.
Kaye led OSRUI, the Wisconsin-based camp that draws many kids from the Twin Cities, for 48 years before his retirement in 2017. The investigation found that Kaye sexually harassed at least six adult women, five of whom the investigators directly spoke with.
“The women with whom we spoke reported that they were subject to unwanted touching, sexualized comments and sexual advances from Kaye between the 1980s and 2016,” the report read. “Nine other witnesses reported secondhand knowledge of inappropriate conduct, including several that corroborated the first-hand accounts received.”
The investigation found that URJ documents “reflect a report of misconduct by Kaye in 2003.” The investigation found that many of these incidents took place outside of the campgrounds in Oconomowoc, but “[t]here was a nearly uniform expression of concern by witnesses about confidentiality, with many witnesses fearful of retaliation.”
“We are heartbroken and distressed by these accounts and we profoundly apologize for the enduring pain caused to so many,” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and board Chair Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman said in a statement, “We owe a debt of gratitude to those who came forward to share their experiences as victims, witnesses, and survivors, and we will honor their courage as we take our steps forward. In the coming weeks we will be organizing various gatherings to support our communities and process these findings.”
The report says that Kaye had agreed to be interviewed, where he acknowledged knowing about one complaint that had been made to the URJ, where a woman alleged in 2016 that Kaye inappropriately touched her at a URJ conference. Kaye denied the allegation, saying that he never heard back from the URJ and assumed nothing came of it. However, a URJ employee told investigators that “it was understood that if Kaye were to attend future URJ events, he would be accompanied by someone from URJ human resources.”
Kaye was sent a memo in 2003 from the then-head of HR at the URJ. The memo attached the URJ’s sexual harassment policy that “had recently been distributed to all URJ staff, and explains to Kaye that she is providing it to Kaye again because she is ‘concerned that, as a result of your conduct in the elevator at the recent Biennial, I need to remind you of the policy at this time.’”
When shown the memo, Kaye recalled receiving it but denied making a sexual advance.
The investigation found no evidence of any sexual misconduct by Kaye against minors, but investigators questioned how Kaye handled sexual misconduct complaints. In at least two incidents at OSRUI, “Kaye promptly and appropriately terminated staff accused of sexual misconduct.” However, the report detailed two other situations – one in the 1990’s and one about a decade later, both involving sexual assaults of young women by counselors – where Kaye permitted the counselors to remain at the camp after he learned of their misconduct.
“His rationale in at least one of these situations that immigration and related logistical issues slowed down the counselor’s expulsion from camp resulted in further trauma to the survivor,” the report said.
Jon Adland incidents at OSRUI
Investigators found reports of sexual misconduct toward minors under 16 years old by Jon Adland. Specifically, there were three witnesses who described sexual contact with Adland when he was a 23-year-old rabbinic student that spent the summer as a unit head. The campers were 13 or 14 years old. One of the three former campers told her counselor about Adland.
“That counselor told us that she recalls being troubled by the way that Adland interacted with the girls, but that she did not report her concerns or the camper’s complaint to her supervisor,” the report said.
Adland, now a rabbi, spoke with investigators and confirmed he had been at OSRUI in 1977, but did not remember engaging in any sort of sexual activity with campers.
“He said, however, that he felt ‘ashamed’ that he may have ‘acted in an unethical and morally reprehensible way’ and offered no excuse for this kind of behavior,” the report read. “He indicated that he may have hurt women, and offered to apologize for his conduct.”
Rabbi Adland also acknowledged that he faced an ethics investigation by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform Movement’s rabbinic leadership organization in 2018 for an incident with a 14-year-old girl that was alleged to have occurred sometime between 2005 and 2010.
Adland was censured, and a representative from the CCAR confirmed to investigators that he still faces restrictions and cannot work with minors.
In a footnote in the report, it says that Rabbi Adland taught at Camp GUCI, a URJ camp in Zionsville, Ind., after graduating from HUC. There were no complaints about him from his time there.
About the investigation
The investigation was handled by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton which was retained by the URJ on April 26, 2021, after reports on social media accused several Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion professors of sexual harassment, gender bias and other forms of inequitable treatment.
While those reports didn’t implicate the URJ directly, the movement leadership decided to bring the firm on to independently investigate any sexual misconduct at URJ workplaces, summer camps and programming, including youth programming.
The incidents that Debevoise investigators uncovered range in time from the late 1970s to 2017. Across the 15 URJ camps, the investigation learned of 17 credible incidents of sexual misconduct by adults over 18 years of age against minors. None of the perpetrators are currently employed by the URJ, and the majority of sexual misconduct of adults with minors was perpetrated by college-aged camp counselors.
The report ”recounts serious and credible reports of sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct, including sexual assault, taking place over decades at URJ workplaces, camps, and youth programs,” Jacobs and Kaufman wrote. They said the report was also published on the URJ website “without modifications or omissions.”