The early history of OSRUI (or as it was originally called, Union Institute) is the story of the beginning of Reform Jewish camping. Union Institute was the first Reform Jewish camp, as part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in North America. (The UAHC is now known as the Union for Reform Judaism [URJ]). The UAHC’s interest in established a camp for the Reform movement dates back to the early 1940s. However, the efforts to found a Reform Jewish camp began in earnest in the early 1950s, only when the project garnered significant local support among several young rabbis in the Chicago area, including Rabbi Herman Schaalman (who was the regional director of the UAHC at that time), as well as Rabbis Joseph Buchler, Ernst M. Lorge, Karl Weiner, and Arnold Jacob Wolf. And so, the first Reform Jewish camp was located in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a 2-hour drive from Chicago.
From Union Institute to OSRUI. The camp was purchased and welcomed its first campers in 1952. In 1967, the camp adopted the name Olin-Sang Union Institute to acknowledge the philanthropic support of the Olin and Sang families. The name changed again in 1972, when a third major donor was added and the camp name became Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, or OSRUI.
Camp Directors. Rabbi Schaalman served as camp director for the first year, in addition to his responsibilities as regional director of the UAHC. Over the next 17 years Union Institute had 7 other directors: Rabbi Gerald Raiskin (1953), Rabbi Daniel E. Kerman (1953-1954), Rabbi Irwin Schor (1954-1955), Philip Brin (1955-1960), Norman Buckner (1961-1962), Irv Kaplan (1963-1968), and Rabbi Allan Smith (1969-1970). Jerry Kaye became the director in 1970, and served in that capacity for 48 summers. Solly Kane is the current director, and has served in that role since 2017.
Adapted from “A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping,” edited by Michael M. Lorge and Gary P. Zola.