Community I’ve Been Craving
by Max Chaiken
Earlier this month, I had the incredible privilege to sing and learn with a community that I have come to love over many years. That community is the Hava Nashira program. In the late spring of 2004, I was just graduating from high school, and had the privilege of attending as a soon-to-be song leader for the URJ Camp Harlam. Ever since, I have been lucky enough to get to know the unique community that this program creates. The harmony, values, and overall musical program binds us together, and usually succeeds at inspiring participants to take it home, and share.
Over the past two weeks, a good number of people have asked, “Oh, how was your conference?” How do I even begin?
How can I share the strength of the melodies and the depth of the harmonies that two-hundred and fifty people can create together? How do I convey the powerful sense of unity in our purpose that we build when singing Jewish music together? Who can understand the relationships with friends, musicians and teachers that I have cultivated over nearly 10 years of teaching and singing with Jewish groups?
Naturally, my first instinct was to use passé words like “awesome!!!” or “amazing!” But these words do no justice to my experience. They are a simple and quick way to respond, but they can’t capture the reality, and often come off as ingenuine or sarcastic.
This year the program was enhanced tremendously by the presence of song leaders from the Ramah camps. As part of a new program called Kivun, a number of song leaders and prayer leaders from both URJ and Ramah camps were designated as fellows and sponsored in part by this program to connect with each other, learn from each other, and share best practices, repertoire and ideas over the course of the week. I can only hope that the Ramah group felt as passionate as we did about joining us, because I know that some of their ideas—both musically and in the broader sense of their vision—have made a lasting impression on me.
So I guess the best way to describe my experience, both this year and over the past eight, is to make an analogy. In college I studied economics, and there is a fairly basic economic principle known as the “law of diminishing marginal utility.” This principle states that the first unit of consumption of a good (or service) almost always yields more utility (gain, or benefit) than the second and subsequent units. So when you’ve been craving a chocolate chip cookie, that first warm, gooey bite is a lot better than the second, third or thirtieth. You can probably imagine times in your life when this has been true.
Fortunately for me, at Hava Nashira, this law has never proven true. In every year, in every song, and in every sunrise, I feel a stronger sense of purpose, commitment and spiritual growth than I did in the last, and I hope and pray that I continue to feel that awe in the face of such a holy community.
Max Chaiken is a former URJ Camp Harlam Songleader, current URJ Kutz Camp Songleader and a 2012 Kivun Fellow.
Originally posted at The Clipboard: News From Our Camp and Israel Programs