When Karen Berk, now the director of administration at Congregation Sinai in Fox Point, attended overnight summer camp at OSRUI in the 1970s and ‘80s, it was where she developed her sense of Jewish identity.
“It was a place where I was able to figure out who I was,” she said. “I have lifelong friends from there.”
Now, her twins, Lydia and Nason Lancina, 15, both Whitefish Bay High School students, are both attending camp at OSRUI and loving it.
Like a chachka handed down from a mother’s dining room cabinet to her daughter’s, some parents hand down the summer camp that captured their Jewish heart. Of course, OSRUI, the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, is no chachka. It’s one of a handful of sprawling summer camps around the nation run by the Union for Reform Judaism.
Karen would have understood if the kids had wanted to go to a different camp, or at least she would have really tried to understand. “It was OSRUI that I really wanted them to go to,” she admitted.
“It’s like a second home,” said Nason.
“I love it so much,” said Lydia, during an interview with the Chronicle.
“I love it so much,” said Talia Bernstein, 14, using the exact same words as Lydia in her interview, though Talia was talking about the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River.
“It gives me an opportunity to meet people that are from other places, not just Milwaukee,” Talia said. She said it helped form her Jewish identity, adding that “it’s the only thing I want to do during the summer.”
It’s great that Talia’s parents went to Interlaken, because she can tell stories and they can picture the places. “We know exactly where she is talking about,” said Talia’s mother, Shannon Bernstein.
Talia attends Milwaukee Jewish Day School and her family home is in Fox Point; Talia’s father Nathan Bernstein said he truly appreciates that the Jewish community here offers so many resources to families, like camps and school.
Nathan and Shannon attended Interlaken at the same time but didn’t know each other. They met years later on a blind date. Nathan loved being close to nature at Interlaken, while Shannon remembers it as a place that formed a lot of her Jewish identity.
Nathan said he’s impressed with the way the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center has run its camp and maintained its infrastructure, but that didn’t mean Talia had to go there.
“No, she didn’t have to go,” Shannon said. “It was sort of an unspoken assumption.”
Talia’s favorite part of Interlaken is Shabbat, with a “Shabbat walk,” dancing, dinner and more.
Karen recalled how her grandfather died while she was at camp in her youth. Her family rabbi happened to be at camp and he told her. Karen has good memories of how she was treated by staff and others at camp. “There were all very loving and caring and supportive,” she said.
Nason remembers that his first year at camp started a couple days late because of soccer tryouts. At first, a counselor walked him around, and he soon fell in with others. “All of them were really, really welcoming,” he said.
Lydia remembers one canoeing trip down the Black River. They stopped near their campsite in pouring rain, at muddied ground, and several campers decided to help the counselors bring the canoes up to the campsite. They formed a human chain, shoeless in the mud, passing the canoes up the river bank.
It was exhausting but fun, and the veterans of that drenched canoe handoff are all good friends to this day.