At the risk of appearing to begin a formulaic, stereotypic President’s Message for June, another school year has ended. Many of our kids will be heading off to a variety of summer pursuits, and some will be spending time at OSRUI – Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute. 

OSRUI is the Union for Reform Judiasm’s (URJ) summer camp at which many Reform Jewish kids in the Midwest ignite a love of Judaism that will burn throughout their lives. OSRUI is the flagship, crown jewel, and the first of many URJ camps founded with the express purpose of helping to bring Judaism to life for our youth. 

OSRUI is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, having been ‘born’ in 1952. On April 28th, a celebration was held that Sue and I attended and for which our own Rabbi and Rebbetzen, Max & Leslie Weiss, served as Honorary Chairs. 

I was amazed and delighted to learn that not only were we celebrating OSRUI’s 60th Anniversary that night, but also the 96th birthday of its founder, Rabbi Herman Schaalman. We sang Happy Birthday to Rabbi Schaalman, led by Rabbi Joe Black (who also urged him to “skip around the room, skip around.. Hah!) Rabbi Schaalman walked to the podium and led us, with great strength and eloquence, in a very moving Havdalah. 

Rabbi Schaalman’s story is quite remarkable. Young Herman Schaalman left his native Germany in 1935 to study at Hebrew Union College, the Reform movement’s rabbinical seminary in Cincinnati. Fourteen years later he moved to Chicago to become the Midwest Director of the Union of Hebrew Congregations, the organization that we now call URJ. One of he conditions he set for taking the position was that he be allowed to work on the creation of a Reform movement sleepaway summer camp that included religious and educational components, in addition to recreational activities. The impact that his work has had on Reform Judaism, as we know it today, is beyond measure. His vision of creating OSRUI, and the other North American URJ camps, has blossomed into a lasting legacy for which we should all be very grateful.

Never been to camp? Think that this story has not affected you? Think again. Camp has been a fertile, creative force in our worship and music. It has served as a laboratory in which Debbie Friedman, z”l, along with many others, could create new ruach (spirit) filled melodies and lyrics through which we have connected communally and spiritually. Our camps have provided us with many talented Jewish leadersand educators. It has touched all of us.

Imagine the journey of 60 years … from a plot of undeveloped land on the shores of Lac LaBelle in Oconommowoc, Wisconsin, to a Reform Jewish Camp system that allows us to “teach our children well…” So when you pack your kids off for an adventure at OSRUI this summer, or you get ready for the next amazing Oak Park Temple Retreat in March 2013, say thank you to Rabbi Herman Schaalman! 
Have a great summer!


Jeff Blaine

Share This