The unthinkable summer: No camp

The hardest part of cancel- ing camp this summer is “restart- ing the countdown” for which the excitement grows exponentially, said Megan Gendelman, 18, a He- brew immersion counselor at the Union of Reform Judaism’s Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute. “We live ten months for two. So now we’ve been saying we’re waiting 22 months for two.”

Campers, counselors, professionals and families in Wisconsin are heartbroken that Jewish camps have suspended in-person activities this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they understand the hard, painful decisions that leaders of camps like OSRUI, Camp Ramah and the Steve & Shari Sadek Camp Interlaken JCC have had to make.


“It’s really hard; really, really sad because camp is like our home.”
— Megan Gendelman, 18


“It was a heartbreaking day,” said Solly Kane, director at OSRUI, of the April 30, 2020 decision that affected most Reform movement camps. “At the same time, it’s a decision that we believe is the best one for the health and well-being of our 1,000 campers.”

The announced summer closure will have financial repercussions on Camp Ramah of Wisconsin, which will lose almost $4 million in revenue, according to a report. 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. “And though this is the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced. We are confident that we’re going to get through it with everybody’s help and be around for the next 70 years and more.”

Sivan Dreyfus Wallace at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute.

Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC, is saddened by the Interlaken closure, which was announced on May 18. “I grew up in overnight camps – as a person, a professional, and a parent – and I never imagined a situation where this would be the best decision, but it is the best decision for our community.”

Beber Camp did not respond to phone inquiries about whether it would open this summer. Camp Young Judaea posted on its site that it will be closed this summer.

Camps have informed families that tuition can be refunded, applied to next year or donated.

Meanwhile, camp programming has shifted online. Camp staff is reaching out to campers with virtual activities from Shabbat Shira, a music program, to song leading, Israeli dancing and science classes. Thousands have participated, organizers say.

“I’ve been really impressed with the amount of programming they’ve done and that they were able to turn it out so quickly,” said Lina Dreyfus Wallace, a Mequon parent of OSRUI campers and a past staffer, counselor and camper since her first camp in 1988.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Sivan, said she will miss sleepover camp at OSRUI. “I feel sad because I was really excited to see my friends at camp and be there with everyone.”

Of the online activities, Sivan said, “It’s fun. It’s really cool, but it’s not the same thing.”

Gendelman, a Northwestern University freshman from North Shore Milwaukee, is staying connected with campers and fellow counselors. She said she now has plans to tutor Hebrew online this summer and work in her father’s Taekwondo school.

This would have been her 11th year at OSRUI. “It’s really hard; really, really sad because camp is like our home,” she said. “It’s hard to have that taken away.”