By Cantor Rosalie Boxt
Kivun Liaison, Hava Nashira Songleaders Intensive
American Conference of Cantors
Last week I had the accidental good fortune of being part of a new AviChai Foundation program called Kivun. This program invited young leaders from URJ and Ramah camps to work together at camp sites across the country to delve deeply into a particular area of camping and leadership, doing so in partnership with these two movements in a desire to share best practices, to learn from each other, and to create more meaningful relationships among all those who care about the work of Jewish camping. As a long time faculty of Hava Nashira and working with our URJ camp songleaders with Dan Nichols and Rabbi Noam Katz I was asked to be the liason for this program this last week at our URJ Camp OSRUI.
We, in this new URJ/Ramah Songleading track, learned so much about each other and about how much we have in common. The work of music in camps and synagogues is serious work, at least many of us think it is – not serious in execution, but in attention – it takes a gentle merging of science and art to help our communities sing. And the different ways our movements sing both in camp and in synagogue can only be instructive and add to our toolbox of ideas and visions of what singing communities can be like. We have been reminded of need for us to work across movement lines to share ideas about communal music and singing – b’kitzur (in community) and in t’filah.
The URJ songleaders were moved and inspired by the Ramah songleaders’ leading of tefilah – blending accessible nusach with contemporary mash-ups and secular melodies to prayer texts, as we utilize in URJ camps as well. And the Ramah songleaders were delighted to learn that we knew weekday nusach and could keep up with the davening.
The Ramah songleaders were wonderful teachers; with open-heartedness they taught and were open to feedback and evaluation, a backbone of our program. They each expressed strong commitment to Hebrew learning, to Torah teaching and to enthusiasm and joy in leading shirah. As we tell our songleaders that we are Jewish educators first and foremost, the Ramah and URJ songleaders both continued to work on this value for themselves and what this could mean for their camp communities.
While the URJ songleaders were hungry for the repertoire the Ramah songleaders brought, the Ramah group was surprised to learn how much repertoire we have in our camps, how much is Hebrew and Torah based, and how much tefilah we sing. In a delightful moment, one Ramah songleader asked me why it was that so many songs at one URJ camps’ songsession were in freygish (Ahavah Rabah mode) which Ramah uses a lot. I explained that our background gathering music from the Chassidic Song festivals exposed us to lots of Israeli, Chassidic, and modal Hebrew singing. He was thrilled.
Another important thing this Kivun program created was an opportunity for the Ramah songleaders themselves to network. Having offered this Songleading track for our URJ songleaders for a decade, we are used to the fact that all our camps musicians connect here, have some common repertoire that gets learned at Hava Nashira and shared in the summer, which creates a wonderful network among the camps. The Ramah songleaders had never met together. Ever. They are now more committed to sharing best practices, trouble shooting, and plan on starting with a small repertoire of songs learned while at Hava Nashira that ALL the Ramah songleaders will plan to share at their camps this summer.
Most beautiful was that if you were to have walked into our session space in Oconomowoc even after the second of 5 days, you would not have known which of us were Ramah or URJ camp songleaders. Meaningful relationships were built, songleaders from both movements camps which are located in the same geographical region have connected, and a desire to continue to learn and grow together has blossomed. Some of the Ramah songleaders who planned to leave before Shabbat changed their flights to remain a part of the entire Hava Nashira community through until Sunday!
As a cantor and songleader who has begun to explore more deeply what can be learned from diverse models of leading music, of how to push ourselves to blend tradition and history with contemporary experience, and how to be strongly identified as a Reform Jew and yet yearn to know more about how other movements and communities find expression in their worship and prayer, this opportunity was a gift. I was honored to work with Kivun and AviChai, with URJ and Ramah and all our camp songleaders with the never ending support from Jerry Kaye and OSRUI and look forward to see how the seeds planted grow into rich fruit.