Sunday, August 09, 2020

In the battle between a global pandemic and Camp Simcha, was there ever a doubt which side would emerge victorious?

Understanding that its operations at the happiest place on earth would be limited this summer because of the coronavirus outbreak, Chai Lifeline launched Camp Simcha Without Borders to bring its signature joie de vivre and unbridled enthusiasm to communities far and wide. And judging by the response to Camp Simcha Without Border’s first event, a drive-in car concert held on the outskirts of Monsey, the Camp Simcha spirit burns brightly in campers’ hearts no matter where they may be located.

Nearly 1,000 people from Monsey and Northern New Jersey turned out on July 1 for the late evening festivities. Every carload of passengers exuberantly greeted by smiling Camp Simcha volunteers distributing pre-packed dinner boxes. As drivers pulled into their spots in front of the professionally lit outdoor stage, some kids clambered up onto their cars’ roofs and hoods to take in the action while others chose to enjoy the show from their vehicles.


The air was electric with energy as master of ceremonies Meir Kay, a veteran Camp Simcha counselor, set the tone for the night, gleefully encouraging the audience to honk their horns in lieu of clapping. A high voltage performance by the Krohma Band with Yoni Z was followed by the return of Eli Gerstner and the Yeshiva Boys Choir. The crowd went wild when Avraham Fried took the stage and joyfully responded to Beri Weber, the final singer of the night. Counselors in onesies and face masks danced their way up and down the aisles, delivering prizes through car windows during the trivia games. And, while all eyes were on the stage as the night wore on, the magic of the performance paled by comparison to the huge smiles on the faces of the children watching the show, enjoying a taste of Camp Simcha if only for just a few hours.

Fair Lawn resident Anny Safier has spent seven summers at Camp Simcha. She described the socially distanced show as a night to remember.

“The concert was great and a really great way to begin the summer,” observed 19-year-old Annie, who stayed in her car for the duration of the concert, where the full sound experience was accessible on FM radio. “It’s Camp Simcha and they go out in a big way to make sure that no one is disappointed and that everyone is happy.”

Annie’s mother, Robyn, said that the concert was the first outing her family had taken since the coronavirus outbreak began. While she stepped outside her car for a brief moment during the concert, she noticed that the family in the vehicle next to hers stayed inside the entire time.

“Those are the kids who got the most out of the concert and you won’t see them in any of the pictures,” said Robyn. “If there had been a way to put a camera inside each car to see the faces of each kid, it would have been amazing to see how much joy the concert brought them.”

The idea that Chai Lifeline managed to find a way to bring the Camp Simcha experience to children who can’t come to camp this summer came as no surprise to Kay.

“Sometimes we think that we need to be in a specific place and space to be happy without realizing that we are complete and whole and have the ability inside of us to transform joy into gratitude,” he noted. “Instead of pushing camp off for another summer, Camp Simcha decided to go bigger, with a more grand reach than ever before, putting the pedal to the metal instead of hitting the brakes.”

“Nothing will stop Camp Simcha,” added Fried. “Camp Simcha is so amazing to bring simcha to these children and families and I’m honored to be here.”

Chai Lifeline CEO Rabbi Simcha Scholar said that the Monsey drive-in was just the tip of the iceberg, with Camp Simcha Without Borders scheduling concerts in locations including Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, Brooklyn, New Jersey and the Catskills.

“It used to be you have to come into Camp Simcha to have Camp Simcha but this will serve many more communities than ever before,” said Rabbi Scholar. “This is a Simcha revolution, with our young men and women teaching the world how to give.”

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]