Reform movement alleges misconduct by former summer camp director | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Reform movement alleges misconduct by former summer camp director 


An investigation by the Reform movement into allegations of abuse has named three people with ties to OSRUI, the denomination’s summer camp in Oconomowoc. 

Gerard “Jerry” Kaye, who served as OSRUI director for 48 years until 2017, allegedly harassed six women. Rabbis Jon Adland and Allan Smith also had ties to Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute and are accused of misconduct, from decades ago. The Union for Reform Judaism report also discussed misconduct at other Jewish institutions, involving other individuals (see JTA coverage).  

Investigators said they were aware of no sexual misconduct by adults against minors at OSRUI in the last 13 years.  

“This has been an expansive investigation, fueled by the goal of the URJ’s leadership to face unflinchingly and learn from past incidents of sexual misconduct in its workplaces, camps, conferences and programs,” reads the Feb. 17, 2022 report, by the New York City law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.  

“We have been struck by the courage of those who came forward to share their accounts, as well as by their nearly universal expression of gratitude for this process. As outsiders to the Reform Movement, we can say that the level of commitment to helping the URJ improve on the part of the people who contacted us is extremely strong.” 

The report makes several recommendations for preventing sexual misconduct and ensuring a culture of ethical accountability, and the Reform movement reports it has been working to strengthen its procedures and culture. 

“We are heartbroken and distressed by these accounts and we profoundly apologize for the enduring pain caused to so many,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “When we retained Debevoise & Plimpton to conduct this investigation, we hoped their work would help bring accountability to the URJ, give voice to the unheard or those who might not have been able to come forward in the past, and bring healing for victims and survivors.” 

 Gerard “Jerry” Kaye 

“We found no evidence whatsoever of any sexual misconduct by Kaye against minors,” states the report. But the report does state that he sexually harassed at least six adult women. This included unwanted touching, sexualized comments and sexual advances from Kaye between the 1980s and 2016. Kaye retired in 2017. The current director is the similarly named Solly Kane, who is not named in the report. 

Investigators spoke with five of the six women who reported Kaye’s inappropriate conduct, according to the report. “Nine other witnesses reported second-hand knowledge of inappropriate conduct, including several that corroborated the first-hand accounts received,” according to the report. 

The Debevoise & Plimpton report is not the first documentation of issues for Kaye. In 2003, the Reform movement’s head of human resources sent a memo to Kaye, related to his behavior. Attached to the memo was the Reform movement’s sexual harassment policy, because the director was “concerned that, as a result of your conduct in the elevator at the recent Biennial, I need to remind you of the policy at this time.” She added, “I would like to draw your attention in particular to the policy’s provisions that ‘sexual harassment includes, among other things, unwelcome sexual advances . . . .’” 

Kaye declined to interview with the Chronicle, but he did interview with investigators for the Debevoise & Plimpton report. Kaye told investigators he was aware of one complaint – a woman alleged in 2016 that Kaye had inappropriately touched her at a Reform conference. But Kaye denied that allegation, “noting that he never heard back from the URJ so assumed nothing ever came of it,” reads the report.  

Kaye either did not recall or denied these allegations in the report: 

  • One woman had lunch with Kaye at a restaurant to talk about her son, a camper. As they left the lunch, Kaye unexpectedly tried to kiss her.  
  • Another woman met with Kaye outside of camp about serving at camp. During their meeting, Kaye asked more than once if the woman could go with him to his hotel room to show her something. She declined each time and he then asked her to go for a walk. He held her hand and tried to embrace and kiss her.  
  • Someone who was a young camp staff member in the 1980s said Kaye reached down her shirt and tucked a candy wrapper in her bra.  

Kaye told investigators that he never acted with malice.  

During interviews, Debevoise & Plimpton investigators learned that witnesses were usually fearful of retaliation. Witnesses sought confidentially. 

The report also examined how Kaye handled sexual misconduct complaints. In at least two of the incidents that took place at OSRUI, Kaye promptly and appropriately terminated staff accused of sexual misconduct.  

In two other situations, however, one in the 1990s and one about a decade later, both involving alleged sexual assaults of young women by counselors, the report found that Kaye permitted the counselors to remain at the camp after he learned of their misconduct.  

“His rationale in at least one of these situations—that immigration and related logistical issues slowed down the counselor’s expulsion from camp—resulted in further trauma to the survivor,” reads the report.  

Others named 

Rabbi Allan Smith is deceased. He is accused of fomenting a “sexualized culture” as a longtime director of Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York. The report does not cite any Wisconsin-based allegations against Smith, who was the 1969-1970 director of OSRUI, immediately before Kaye. 

Jon Adland was a 23-year-old rabbinic student, working at OSRUI as a unit head in the summer of 1977, when he allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with three campers, ages 13-14. 

Now-Rabbi Adland spoke with investigators and said he did not recall any sexual activity with campers but also felt “ashamed” and indicted he may have hurt women and offered to apologize.  

The Central Conference of American Rabbis investigated Adland in 2018 for an incident with a 14-year-old girl. The report does not allege that the incident had any ties to Wisconsin.  

“That this investigation happened at all reflects positive and profound cultural change,” reads the report. “We hope that the survivors with whom we spoke who have left the Reform Movement, despite the passion they once had for its teachings and community before they experienced sexual misconduct, can look at this report and the URJ’s current commitment to address sexual misconduct as a potential bridge back to the Reform Movement community.”