By Scott Brown

During normal times, I dream about my years at Camp Wise at least once a week. But throughout this pandemic, my dreams have sent me to Camp Wise three times per week. I am certain that this busy subconscious activity reflects how powerful camp was in forming my Jewish identity, shaping my role as a leader, and inspiring me to live the values I learned as a camper, staff and Camp Director. Camp shaped my life, my career, and my family. It has been the cornerstone of my life.

In combination with the social isolation we are all experiencing during the day, my camp dreams led me to wonder if former campers and staff were similarly longing for the beautiful and special experience of camp during these difficult times. So, I reached out to my favorite and most talented former camp song leaders from the 1970’s-1980’s to see if they would be interested in planning and producing a Camp Wise Havdalah Singalong. I imagined it being such a gift to alumni and us. I needed it, too.

So, using WhatsApp, emails, texts and Zoom, we re-connected. Calling in from locations as diverse as Detroit, Cleveland, and Israel, we initially shared some funny old stories and laughs, and then got to work recalling the favorite songs that everyone would recognize. We invited other past camp staff who were remembered for their special shticks to also participate in the program. Before not too long, we had a list of 25 songs and cheers, and RSVP’s from over 100 alumni!

To promote the event, we used social media and an active Camp Wise Facebook page that had already been established for alumni. The program began with the familiar “hands up/mouths shut” to get everyone quiet (Covid facemask included to mark the moment!). Virtual backgrounds featuring old camp scenes were used by performers to take us back. Alumni were welcomed and the guitars, accordion and beautiful voices did the rest filling six Zoom screens with faces from the past. People joined from all over the country and world. It was amazing to see so many people clapping, singing, and smiling together. We were all taken back to the Home of Happiness. Our chats as we reconnected and shared memories were awesome.

I’ve always felt that the music and songs at Camp Wise were the heartbeat of the camp experience for me – whether we were singing in the Chadar Ohel, over Shabbat, or at the session-ending CW Ceremony. I sang these same songs later in my life to my three daughters, and now to my grandchildren. Camp songs were a special gift that shaped my soul and gave me such warm memories. I know the same is true for others who joined this special event.

It felt like we were all standing arm-in-arm back at the campfire. I didn’t know how much my soul needed this reunion during this very unsettling and challenging time. The magic of Jewish summer camp was alive.

I hope all camp communities and alumni find ways to come together and experience the joy of camp. As for Camp Wise: we have already begun planning our next gathering! My nights are still spent dreaming of Camp Wise’s past, but now I spend my days dreaming up ways to connect to Camp Wise in the present – and in the future.

Scott Brown has a long history associated with Camp Wise in Cleveland, Ohio. He was Camp Director at Camp Wise in the early 1980’s; staff member throughout the 1970’s; and a camper in the 1960’s. He was also the director of Camp Sabra at the St. Louis JCC in the mid-1980’s. Scott went on to a long and fulfilling career in senior roles at Hillel International. He is a certified advance-level coach (PCC) and principal of Scott Brown Leadership Coaching. He is a camp consultant and coach for FJC. He claims to have learned everything he needed to know in life from camp.