Heichal HaTarbut Kaye / Kaye Cultural Center

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

A wall of glass lets in light streaming through trees. Sealed stone frames a wood-milled holy ark. Natural wood planks run along the lobby ceiling. The new 22,000-square feet community center at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute is spiritually uplifting, yet natural, in keeping with a Jewish summer camp.

The $4 million Kaye Cultural Center or Heichal HaTarbut Kaye will be dedicated on Alumni Day at the Union of Reform Judaism camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The camp is located 90 minutes from the northern suburbs of Chicago.

“We didn’t have an indoor site large enough to fulfill our intention to create the magic of communal life at summer camp,” said Michael Lorge, past chairman of OSRUI and the development committee chairman for the Kaye Center.

Lorge is considered the guiding light behind the facility that will serve more than 1,100 campers and a staff of 300 over the summer sessions.

The Kaye Center, which seats 900 in the main room, is named for camp emeritus directors Jerry and Paula Kaye. The Kayes created a vibrant Jewish living environment at OSRUI for 48 summers before their retirement in 2017. “Their vision and dedication helped countless campers and staff find their Jewish identity and experience joy through singing, worship, lifelong friendships and fun,” said Solly Kane, the current camp director.

Lorge’s father, Rabbi Ernst Lorge, along with his wife Eudice, was one of the founding Chicago rabbis of the 67-year-old camp that began with a few white cabins dotting a lake front and 70 campers. “The first thing they built with campers and counselors was a Beit Knesset, an outdoor chapel with benches,” Lorge said. His father and Rabbi Joseph Buchler, camp craftsmen, built the ark. The chapel became not just a place of worship but an outdoor meeting space that the camp eventually outgrew. An indoor sports center built years later would still not suffice for large community gatherings.

Lorge grew up at OSRUI and, like many alumni, returned to contribute positively to the community.  From staff child, he became a camper, then counselor, unit head, assistant director, faculty and board member. A few years ago, Lorge, corporation counsel for the City of Skokie, spoke to Jerry Kaye about a concept for a community center. They agreed that “what we needed was to create an intentional space, not a big box, but a building that would really make community come alive whether it be through prayer, through music or through theater,” Lorge said.

The architectural details make the building approachable emotionally, spiritually and physically. “There are no steps,” Lorge said. “The entire front is a slow ramp-up approach just eight inches higher than the rest of the room. It is designed for major productions or small talent shows.”

The building has a 25-foot screen for video projection, full theater lighting and acoustic design.

Lead donors include Harry and Susan Seigle, Neal Sabin, Renay and Joel Bayer and the Krupp family. Debbie Krupp, Sabin, Joe Seigle and Joel Bayer are fundraising campaign co-chairs.   Seth Erlich is chair of the Physical Plant Committee.   

The center also offers a place for congregations and other community organizations to gather for year-round retreats, Kane said. It is the largest building ever built among the 17 camps run by the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Community gatherings is what camp is really about,” Kane said. “We’re fortunate to have this new space that will allow our community to grow and thrive.”

The OSRUI camp community will host a dedication ceremony and special program in the new building in conjunction with the camp’s Alumni Day, 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21 at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, 600 Lac La Belle Drive, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Call 262-567-6277.

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