In the summer of 5748 (1988), CGI Kalkaska, Michigan, had the 1st month for boys, and the 2nd month for girls. Following that 1st (5 week) month, there was a 2-week program in the city of Detroit, for a much smaller group.
On the way back from our camp trip in “the 2 week camp”, we learned that on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Rebbe had spoken strongly about the importance of wishing each other Ksiva Vachasima Tova. And so, in typical camp style, we decided to try and put the words to a tune to sing.
As the bus continued its ride back to our “base”, we tried fitting the words to a number of joyous Nigunnim, but none of them seemed to work well. Finally, someone thought of the tune that is now used, and it fit well. In fact, it took off! For the rest of the bus ride back, we all sang this song. That night, at the banquet, we sang the song. We sang and danced, on the floor and on the chairs.
On Tuesday, 3 Elul, a rather small group of campers and staff made their way back to Crown Heights, and headed to the Rebbe’s house (where the Rebbe Davened during the year of Aveilus for the Rebbetzin) for Maariv, where we hoped to bring this new song as a gift to the Rebbe.
We’d “lost” a lot of people along the way. Only a small portion of campers from the regular camp joined the new 2-week program, a smaller portion of those were returning to New York, and some campers were picked up by their parents directly from the airport in Newark. In fact, for reasons I don’t recall now, there were still some staff members stuck in the airport.
It was a quiet summer night, and there were not many people in the Rebbe’s house. After Maariv, as the Rebbe turned to go upstairs, the campers began to sing our new song. Everyone else was quiet. We were also a bit hesitant, apprehensive. It was not a common thing back then to sing in the Rebbe’s house every time the Rebbe was coming down or going up from Davening.
The Rebbe walked up the stairs slowly, holding his Siddur in his right hand, his left hand on the banister. About half way up the stairs, the Rebbe stopped, and with his left hand encouraged the singing. This continued a few times as the Rebbe continued upstairs.
We were excited. We were thrilled! The Rebbe had acknowledged us, and “accepted” the song that we brought him! But there was more excitement to come…
As we were leaving the Rebbe’s house, lingering somewhat, Rabbi Groner suddenly came running out, calling out to us “Kinderlach! Kinderlach! Kumt Tzurik! Der Rebbe geit teilen Dollaren!” Children, come back! The Rebbe is going to give you dollars!
Excitedly, we ran back into the house, and waited eagerly.
At this point, we began to feel sorry for the few staff members who had to stay behind in the airport. Meanwhile, we waited. While waiting, we continued to sing “our” song. By now, others caught on, and joined in the singing.
The special table at which the Rebbe would distribute dollars was prepared, and dollars were already laid out for the Rebbe to give. We were still waiting.
Rabbi Groner went upstairs, and came down with the instruction that children be first in line to receive dollars. We all moved to the front of the “line”.
Finally, after a while (about 5:15 into the video), the Rebbe came down. But instead of giving out dollars right away, the Rebbe further surprised everyone us by starting to say a Sicha, directly addressing us, the campers who returned from camp.
(Note: In addition to the obvious content of the Sicha relating to Jewish children, there were also details in the Sicha that we felt related directly to things that we had learned or done in camp that summer).
After the Sicha (about 17:25 into the video), one of the campers proclaimed “Yechi Adoneinu Moerinu Verabeinu” three times, and after each time everyone responded with a resounding “Yechi!”. Then, the Rebbe distributed dollars to campers, staff, everyone else present, and whoever arrived having heard the “news”.