Last Sunday night a momentous event took place in Manhattan, NY at the David Geffen Hall inside the famed Lincoln Center. The annual Camp HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) concert celebrated three decades of spectacular events, and more importantly, raised the funds desperately needed to keep the amazing summer camp alive.
The show was produced by the famed Eli Gerstner of EG Productions; and like all of his productions, it didn’t disappoint. With an amazing light and sound setup, including and a semi-circular layout of LED screens on stage, it was a thrill for the scenes. With literally no information on the evenings performers since the date was announced, electricity was in the air as the audience waited with abated breath to see who would be revealed on the Camp HASC stage.
The evening started out with emcee of the original Camp HASC shows, Zale Newman, giving a heartwarming speech about the history of Camp HASC, how the concerts came to be, and the wonderful work this organization has done for over 40 years. Then the show began. The orchestra for the night, a Yosis orchestra featured some of the best musicians, including musical director and arranger, Rafi Greidi. Once the famed intro was played with the lighting show, Zale’s voice rang out introducing the famed composer and singer Abie Rotenberg. Abie started off the evening with his popular song composed for a Camp HASC concert years ago titled You and I. Abie then thanked Camp HASC, and more importantly Sheya Mendlowitz, whom he said was responsible for Abie becoming a performer in the first place. Abie then invited renowned singer Rivie Schwebel to perform with him some songs from his Lev V’nefesh series, which was produced by Sheya. Then he dedicated the set to Sheya. They were joined by the talented voices of the Zemiros Group led by Yoely Polatseck. The blend was just perfect.
With the applause dying away, Zale’s voice resonated yet again, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, a Toronto native Baruch Levine.” Reb Baruch came out strong with the hit song Vayehi Beshurun off his latest album Bonim Atem (BL5). From there Levine segued into another big song of his, Uforatzto. It was at this point in the show that Baruch mentioned the passing of Jewish music legend and gadol, Reb Bentzion Shenker zt”l. People don’t really have an idea of just how many of niggunim they sing on a weekly basis that were created by this gadol. Baruch, the orchestra, and Zemiros Group went on to perform a medley of some of Bentzion’s songs including; Aishes Chayil, Mizmor L’dovid, Yosis, Lirusholayim and most recently Hatoiv. Most people were shocked that they knew these songs, but not the source that brought them into the world. It was the perfect dedication to Reb Bentzion, alav Hashalom.
Camp HASC board member Abe Eisner introduced U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. Schumer warmly praised Camp HASC, particularly the camp’s devoted counselors for their dedication to the children. “Tzedakah and helping the needy is one of the most important things we can do. Over a thousand children are helped every day,” he lauded. “It’s an amazing thing.”
Zale’s voice rings out as it did those 29 years ago, “ladies and gentleman, please welcome superstar AVRAHAM FRIED.” The audience went wild. Avremel stormed onstage performing B’Aish U’bamayim (Itcha Ani) the opening track of his latest album Bring The House Down. The band, the lights, the energy, you couldn’t help but get swept up in the moment and clap and stamp your feet. When the song ended, the applause was thunderous. Avremel went on to say that if not for a music producer that heard something in his voice on a demo cassette back in the last 70′s, his career would have never happened. That producer was Sheya Mendlowitz. Fried went on to perform a medley of some of his biggest hit produced by Sheya and dedicated to Sheya. It was the best of the oldies and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Camp HASC chairman Jeremy Strauss approached the podium and spoke about how he started off as a HASC counselor years ago and how that changed his life forever. His children are now staff in camp HASC. Jeremy called Sheya Mendlowitz, one of Jewish music’s greatest producers, on stage to present him with the Hakoras Hatov Award. A Brooklyn native, Sheya produced his first concert in 1981 and continued with a vision of excellence, working closely with several musical legends. Many years ago, Sheya was moved by how the music affected the special children of Camp HASC and he came up with the idea for the first Camp HASC concert. In the 30 years that followed, Sheya has produced 15 of those concerts and raised millions of dollars for Camp HASC.
After some photos and an amazing speech by Sheya, which included thanking the Ribono Shel Olam for putting the idea in his head and making him a shliach for many events, and wishing those who need refuos to get them bekarov, the lights dimmed. The band struck up but no singer was announced. Who could be performing next? When the first chords of his hit song Maamin Benissim were played on guitar, the audience knew it was superstar Yaakov Shwekey. With the audience cheering, Yaakov performed hit song after hit song, backed by the spectacular Yosis Orchestra and the voices of Zemiros Group. From his next song We Are A Miracle to Smachot, the energy was almost tangible and everyone was dancing in their seats. With the band winding down, Yaakov paused to take a drink. He said it was wonderful to be back for this wonderful organization and helping the children of HASC. Then he asked veteran composer Abie Rotenberg to join him on stage to perform a medley of D’veykus songs as will be featured on his new collections album due out soon. The medley included Ani Maamin and some other great classics. The performance was electrical. Yaakov surprised us once again, as he called to the Camp HASC stage for the very first time, his good friend composer extraordinaire Yitzy Waldner to join him and sing some of the songs they created together throughout the years. Yitzy’s voice coupled with Yaakov’s, the harmonies with those added by Zemiros Group were astounding. Nt many know that Yitzy could sing like that, and I am sure they can’t wait to hear more in the future. When they got to the song Chayim Shel Shalom, a Sephardic children’s choir joined them on stage as well as a 40 piece Zemiros Group to enhance the song. I happen to LOVE this song. The addition of both choirs transformed it to something angelic and definitely took it to another level.
With the choir filing off the stage, Yaakov gave musical director Rafi a nod, and the band broke into the hit song Bederech Hamelech off Yaakov’s latest album We Are A Miracle. Shwekey next performed the classic Chasoif with composer Baruch Levine, and then jumped back into the new hit song Inshallah. Yaakov then went on to perform the Camp HASC classic A Small Piece of Heaven composed by Abie Rotenberg. Shwekey added his own spin, and the song somehow sounded new. In middle of the song, the forty piece Zemiros Group joined him on stage and the song was taken up yet another notch.
Then it was time for the finale, Yaakov, the Sephardic boys choir, the forty piece Zemiros group, Eli Gerstner and more joined in for Et Rekoid (Time To Dance). All in all, it was an amazing night, some great performances, and we are all looking forward to Camp HASC 31 in Eretz Yisroel iyh.
Photos by: Chaim Tuito