As solstice approaches and the days grow colder, shorter and just plain dreary, who doesn’t long to be magically transported to a warmer, greener and happier time? So yesterday seemed like the perfect time to finally crack open the review copy I received of We Sang That At Camp, an assortment of music from Jewish summer camps. As I opened my cd, I remembered myself as a twelve-year-old girl sitting around the Saturday night medurah listening to a few long- and scraggly-haired madrichim strum their guitars and lead us in our favorite songs. I could almost smell the waft of campfire smoke in my hair.
When I popped in the CD, the ethereal voices I (and probably you, if you’re reading my blog) know so well from Oy Baby began to sing. “Mah tovu, it’s the morning,” they smiled. (Trust me, you can tell they are smiling.) “Mah tovu, bless us this morning….” Hmm, I thought. This is pretty. Very, very, pretty. But a “song we sang at camp?” The songs “we” sang at camp, at least the “we” who attended Habonim Camp Moshavah (affectionately known as Mosh) in 1979, did not speak much of “holy, holy spaces.” If I (and all my Facebook camp friends) remember correctly, our favorite campfire song went something like this: “Sometimes I live in the country/Sometimes I live in the town/Sometimes I gets a great notion/ To jump in the river and drown.” I guess every camp has its own soundtrack. Ours, apparently, was a little darker than most.
Skipping through the tracks, a few of the songs resonated as more familiar. We certainly closed the day to “Rad Hayom.” And I’m sure we would have sung “Salaam” if it had been written yet. But even the songs that I recognized from my years as a camper (as well as the others that I knew from my adult years as camp staff) didn’t sound quite the way I remembered them. While almost every Jewish camp sings some of the same songs (though I have yet to meet anyone else but my Mosh friends who learned “The Internationale” during their summer vacation), every camp sings them differently. The way their camp sings them, with their camp’s silly movements and their camp’s silly lyrics (e.g. “Hava Nagila” becomes “Have a banana, have a banana, have a banana, have three or four”). In other words, there simply is no such thing as a generic camp soundtrack. That’s one of the things we love so much about camp – it’s almost completely a product of the people who make up the camp community.
Even though these songs don’t evoke the Mosh of my decade, that doesn’t mean that we won’t enjoy a few cold nights this winter sitting by the fireplace, listening to We Sang That At Camp and wishing we are at some summer camp – any summer camp. Because whether you sang the Grateful Dead or Debbie Friedman around the campfire, you’ll still hear rays of sunshine pouring out of this CD. And in the deepest, darkest days of winter, sometimes you need more than nine skinny Chanukah candles to brighten your spirits and light the way to next summer.
And for those of you who did sing Debbie Friedman songs… you must, must watch this video-