Wisconsin Jewish summer camps look at closing, other options

Wisconsin Jewish summer camps are facing uncertainty, either having announced  closing or having not yet announced a final decision on what they will do this summer. 

Camps are also still weighing options for the best ways to serve campers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Union of Reform Judaism Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute announced on April 30 to families that they were cancelling all in-person activities at camp for the summer. 

“It was a heart-breaking day,” said Solly Kane director at OSRUI. “At the same time, it’s a decision that we believe is the best decision for the health and well-being of our 1,000 campers.”

JCC Rainbow Day Camp and the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River are waiting until next week to make a decision. “Our teams have been working tirelessly to understand how we can safely, sustainably and successfully meet the needs of our families,” said Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. 

Camp Ramah of Wisconsin, which will lose almost $4 million in revenue, is scheduled to make a decision on May 27. The Forward reports that Camp Ramah is especially hit hard by the pandemic and must raise $2 million to stay solvent.

“We’ve survived for over 70 years with the support of our volunteer leaders and our donor and alumni communities,” said Jacob Cytryn, executive director of the Conservative movement camp.

Beber Camp and Camp Young Judaea did not respond to phone inquiries about whether the camps would open this summer.

OSRUI campers are having a virtual experience this summer, Kane said. “We’re creating opportunities for our community to connect virtually and for our campers to be in touch since the COVID-19 outbreak started in the United States and will continue through the summer,” he said.

The activities include virtual song sessions on Shabbat. Referring to one activity, he said, “We had almost 1,000 people logged in to celebrate Shabbat and sing and be together as a camp community.”