Wow! Our Alums are doing amazing things!

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by OSRUI Director Solly Kane

This week I have been with over 5,000 Reform Jews from around the world who are gathered in Chicago for the Biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). I have loved seeing so many alums and friends of camp as we have joined together to learn, pray, sing, and celebrate the strength of the Reform Movement.

Every two years at the Biennial, the URJ presents awards to leaders and influencers in the community. This year, the winners of all three awards have deep connections to OSRUI and our camp community is so proud to celebrate with them. So, who are these inspirational leaders?

OSRUI alums are pioneers.

On Wednesday night, the URJ celebrated Cantor Barbara Ostfeld who was the first woman ordained as a cantor; she received the 2019 Debbie Friedman Award for Contributions to Jewish Music.  Cantor Ostfeld is a proud OSRUI alum and has inspired hundreds of other women in the last four and a half decades to enter the cantorate.

OSRUI alums are change-makers.

On Thursday morning, the URJ honored Julie Fisher and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who received the Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry.  For the last eight years, Julie has worked to support, provide aid, and bring attention to African asylum seekers in Israel, and Ambassador Shapiro served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2011 until the end of the Obama Administration. Dan and Julie met at OSRUI and shared during their acceptance speech about the impact that camp had on them, their lives, and their careers.

OSRUI alums are community builders.

On Thursday night, the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska, received the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Reform Movement.  The Tri-Faith Initiative brought together a synagogue, a church, and a mosque in a shared campus in an ambitious interfaith project. We are fortunate to have campers every summer from Temple Israel in Omaha, and the longtime rabbi of the congregation, Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, was one of the leaders of this project.  Rabbi Azriel is an OSRUI alum and has spent many years on faculty at camp.

(You can read more about all of the award winners and their inspirational work here.)

At camp we work every day to raise the next generation of OSRUI alums who will be like Cantor Barbara Ostfeld, Julie Fisher, Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and the leaders of the Tri-Faith project. Our alums go on to do great things, as pioneers, as change-makers, as community-builders, and as people who touch the lives of so many, making our world a better place.

Think about the young people you know and the impact that OSRUI can have on them. I hope that you will help encourage them to join us at camp in summer 2020.

One final piece of Biennial I want to share with you: during his Biennial address, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs spoke of building inclusive communities with an open tent for everyone. Rabbi Jacobs shared a blessing from the Babylonian Talmud about the beauty of each individual: “Blessed are You, the Sage of all secret things for their minds are not similar to each other and their faces are all unique.” At camp we strive to create the kind of welcoming, open, community that Rabbi Jacobs spoke of, and we see each member of our community as unique, and as a blessing.

I hope you will join me today in celebrating our alums, and I hope you will be the spark so that OSRUI can continue to have a profound impact on generations of campers.