Of all of the things that I expected might make me tear up on Alumni Day, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting it to be a dance move called “the Bernie.”
For the uninitiated, it’s a move in which the dancer leans backwards and does a semi-shimmy, imitating what a cadaver might look like if someone was trying to make it pretend to walk and/or dance. It references the cult classic “Weekend at Bernie’s,” in which a cadaver needs to appear alive. The dance was popularized in recent years in some hip-hop music videos.
Great! We are all caught up; on with the story.
Camp services are wonderful – I sat with a former camper of mine at Saturday Morning services on Alumni day and allowed the waves of voices singing, laughing, and gossiping to roll over me. There are many songs I knew and a few I didn’t, and I listened to the Bonim campers’ readings and enjoyed being able to share in this moment with camp.
About halfway through services a tune that I recognized but couldn’t place started up. A majority of the camp cheered. I shortly recognized the tune – it was a version of Mumford and Sons’ “Awake My Soul” that had been mashed with the words of “Elohai Nishama,” a piece of the morning prayer service thanking God for renewing our souls.
When the English chorus came and the group sang the words “Awake My Soul,” about 75% of the camp rose and simultaneously performed various renditions of the aforementioned Bernie dance, a movement which, when coupled with the lyrics that each person was loudly singing, appeared to thrust their soul joyfully outwards, shining brightly to match the sunlight streaming through the trees. It was quite a moment for the unprepared, silly and fun and spiritual all at the same time.
As I stared at this student development, my former camper whispered to me, “Isn’t that awesome? Lev and Avery [two of my other former campers] helped start that.” That’s when I knew I was doomed – the tears welled in the corners of my eyes.
I prided myself on being over the top in my personality at camp – I liked to think that by acting as silly as possible, I showed campers and staff alike that it was possible to be exactly who they wanted to be without fear of being ridiculed. I certainly won’t claim that the boys created that dance because I used to do things like that (the young men in question were excellent long before I got to them), but rather, I just felt overjoyed that the things I treasured most about my time at camp were being carried on so directly.
The thing is, I am not actually a Crane Lake Alumnus; no more than a professor is an alumnus of the institution he teaches at. I came to camp as an eighteen-year-old first-year counselor, my 18 sixteen-year-olds posing the first real challenge my working life had ever really experienced. A week later my co-counselor got fired and I was responsible for all of them on my own. A week after that I was crying in the assistant director’s office that this might not be the right fit for me. Somehow, five weeks after that, I was loudly professing my desire to see everyone the following summer. In between I found confidence, strength, and community.
The confident camp-runner that I ended my last summer as would have been unrecognizable to that eighteen year old. I may not have spent my youth at Crane Lake, but I grew up there. To get to watch camp do the same is to be filled with nothing but pride. We speak so freely at camp about the bubble being a second home for each of us – getting to return to see how well protected and nurtured that home is was a gift that I won’t soon forget.
By Eli Cohn-Wein