Some of today’s popular Jewish performers share the camp memories that sparked their own dreams
The stage is set, the performers are nervous, and everyone in the room is waiting for the music to begin. No, it’s not Carnegie Hall. It’s actually the beginning of a color war Grand Sing. For some, it’s a night they wish would just pass already, but for others, it’s the highlight of the summer, hoping to triumph and win color war. It’s also an opportunity for young aspiring entertainers — and some of today’s popular Jewish performers share the camp memories that sparked their own dreams.
“I was color war general in Camp Agudah of Toronto in the early 1990s,” BARUCH LEVINE shares. “The names of the teams were Yissaschar and Zevulun. It was a very close race that year, and for our alma mater, I decided to use the tune to the Six-Day War Israeli classic ‘Sharm-El-Sheikh.’ The performance came out amazing and I was sure I nailed the win for us. But I hadn’t anticipated the other team’s move. They decided that instead of the usual heartfelt emotional song, they would go with MBD’s ‘Yidden,’ a fast, rock-style song that got the camp all excited and riled up, singing, ‘Agudah! Agudah! The place to be!’ Well, I lost that year.”
SHLOIME DACHS remembers the year he was leading the Grand Sing in Camp Torah Vodaath. “I got up onto a bench and began the song with my team, and as we reached the crescendo, I stomped my foot on the bench in excitement, only to have the bench snap in two, and I went flying. All of a sudden, I saw Mr. Newhouse a”h, the camp director who we all knew was extremely dedicated to saving money for the camp, come running toward me. Of course, I assumed he was there to help me get up, which he did, but he also made sure to whisper in my ear, ‘Shloime, you know you’re paying for that bench you broke…’”
I asked keyboard player ELI COHEN, who was a Camp Munk camper for so many years, for his favorite Grand Sing moment. He said it was when ALI SCHARF got up with his guitar and for his Hebrew song, he began Yigal Calek’s London Pirchei “Shimu Melachim.”
“The whole song was very different, more of a majestic piece as opposed to a Jewish sing-along song,” Eli Cohen remembers. “Ali did the adult solo, and the entire camp answered the repeated choruses of ‘...Zeh Sinai…’ Then, Berish Braunstein, the child soloist, brought the house down. Yigal would have been proud.”
When ELI GERSTNER and YOSSI NEWMAN of Yeshivah Boys Choir first met, they were on opposing teams in Camp Kesser during the summer of 1996. When it came time for each team to present an original song, Eli went first with his song, and was sure he had a win in the bag. But then Yossi got up and his team did his original song, “Eishes Chayil.” Eli loved the song so much that he joined forces with Yossi to create YBC, and even before that, “Eishes Chayil” was the first song Eli took for his own first album, Hinei, when he was just 19. Eli lost that year at camp, but the Jewish music world won, with YBC.
Some camps have a comic song as part of the Grand Sing. In Camp Agudah of Toronto, each color war general got a rule book, and one of the items was that any questions regarding the appropriateness of something for the comic part of the Grand Sing should be taken to one of the judges prior to performing. I was general that year and I wrote what I thought was a hilarious song, but I wasn’t sure if it was “kosher” enough. So the last day of color war, I went up to Rabbi Avraham Turin a”h, the camp’s manhig ruchani for over 40 years and one of the judges. He read it and broke out into hysterical laughter. “This is a riot!” he said. “So, I can use it?” I asked him hopefully. “Absolutely not,” was his response. “But I thought you loved it!” I said, confused. He gave me a serious look. “I did love it. It’s very funny. But I don’t want you to lose your share in Olam Haba for a couple of points in color war.”
In Camp Torah Vodaath’s final season, everyone knew that the camp was closing. The camp director at the time was Rabbi Nosson Neuman, and although he wasn’t the one who was responsible for the camp closing, as the director, the blame kinda fell onto his shoulders. Eli Gerstner (who switched from Camp Kesser) and his team chose for the alma mater a song to the tune of Abie Rotenberg’s “Neshomale,” with the words, “Rabbi Neuman, no, we don’t want to go…” and so forth. The song took such an emotional turn that when it was over, they decided to sing it again, but this time, for the first time in color war history, both teams sang it together. There were so many tears from everyone in the hall that night, it made no difference which team won.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 925)
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