Having the opportunity to visit many URJ Camps this summer has been amazing. My visit to Eisner Camp was been jam packed with everything from leading song sessions, to giving a concert, to working with the talented song leading team, to singing cabin prayers. The days are long, powerful and filled with meaning.
At Eisner I was asked to facilitate two 3-hour Jewish songwriting workshops. I spent the morning with lower camp (campers age 8-12) and introduced our task t o them—to write our very own Jewish song. We briefly talked about the components of any song and talked about what makes a Jewish song different. Armed with copies of Mishkan T’fillah, each camper found a piece of liturgy—a text or a reading that spoke to them. Everyone found their way into smaller groups and took a first stab at creating a melody or writing lyrics based on their text. We had some immediate challenges. Most campers had never written a song. A handful of campers weren’t comfortable singing aloud. A few campers only knew three chords on the guitar. And we now only had 2 hours left to write!
We all took a breath and let the moment happen. Each limitation was presented as a set of guidelines to follow. “You only know three chords? Great, write a song with those 3 chords!” With lunch fast approaching we gathered again as big group to share each composition. As I listened to each group share why they chose their text and what their intention was in writing their piece of music I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy. As the room filled with the sound of slightly out of tune guitars accompanied by drum beats, all I heard was voices that were raw, real and filled with ruach.
The afternoon with the teen campers was very much the same. The songs were a little more developed and the guitars were a little more in tune but the moment was the same—raw, real and filled with ruach. Today we finished our journey in songwriting by going into the Eisner studio to record our songs. It is often said that the recording never lies—these recordings are no different. They capture a moment in time and share our story in Jewish songwriting.