JCC bonfire sing-along to reignite Jewish camp memories

Singing around the campfire is a memory many adults cherish. For three hours on Feb. 12, they can re-create those nostalgic memories — indoors.

Kanbar Hall inside the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco will be transformed into the beloved campfire setting familiar at Jewish summer camps everywhere. Don’t worry, though. No actual fire will be lit, so the San Francisco Fire Department won’t have to make an appearance.

A diverse lineup of Bay Area song leaders will assemble for an evening of musical nostalgia at the first Kumzitz-a-Palooza. The free sing-along extravaganza is geared toward adults, but kids are welcome, too. No RSVP is necessary.

“We did that on purpose,” said Barry Finestone, JCCSF executive director. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have several hundred people there from throughout the Bay Area. We want the JCCSF to not just be a place where people come and go, we want people to just be. This is an opportunity to just be without any agenda.”

Kumzitz is a Yiddish-derived word for a relaxed gathering around a bonfire. Participants are encouraged to bring their instruments, pillows and sleeping bags to sit around the “campfire,” where they can snack on popcorn, cider and  s’mores.

Finestone promised the evening, cooked up by JCCSF board members Sara Lefton and Mark Bernstein, would be more “hip and cool” than a traditional sing-along. And it’s not transactional, meaning no membership drive, no fundraising and no cost.

“That’s the beauty of this event,” Finestone said. “The appeal is that we can bring together segments of the community in one place. We’ve sent e-mails to Jewish organizations, which have placed the event in their newsletters to congregants. People are buying into the notion that it’s nice to work together.”

And sing together, of course. That’s where the song leaders come in (at least 10 have signed up so far), such as Isaac Zones of San Francisco. He specializes in Jewish, spiritual, camp and family music, having worked in camp settings and creative music programs.

In other words, he’s perfect for the gig.

Zones’ approach for the Kumzitz-a-Palooza is to introduce traditional folk music with a soul feel or alternative rock vibe. It’s a trend many religious song leaders are leaning toward, he said, in an effort to make their music relevant and contemporary.

“My hope is that people come, have a great time singing and feel comfortable to add to the music,” Zones said. “In terms of playing instruments and finding harmonies, I hope they help us feel closer and connected as a community.”

Joining them will be Marsha Attie, who serves as the cantorial soloist at San Francisco’s Congre-gation Emanu-El. She will be singing with her vocal group, Ya Elah, covering the favorites and taking requests.

“It sounds really fun,” Attie said. “Everybody loves singing around the campfire. For grownups, it’s nostalgic. Kids will love it because it’s what they get at camp. This will be a feel-good event.”

Kumzitz-a-Palooza begins 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. Information: www.jccsf.org.