By Danny Moss and Dan Kahn, NFTY in Israel Madrichim (counselors)
Looking for an exuberant musical recharge for your neshama? You can certainly do much worse than Hava Nashira, an intensive five-day Jewish music gathering at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Participants journey from near and far to learn, network, and create beautiful music together. While each attendee comes in search of something different, all yearn for both practical substance and invigorating sweetness. The search mirrors the very Jewish combination of chalav and devash – milk for our minds and honey for our souls.
This summer we will work as musical educators for NFTY in Israel. Throughout Hava Nashira, we spent time learning with, songleading for, and growing alongside a talented cohort of URJ and Ramah camp songleaders and expert faculty – Cantor Rosalie Boxt, Alan Goodis, and Dan Nichols. As songleaders and educators for NFTY in Israel, our Hava Nashira experience largely followed the path of this camp track but assumed different nuances. At every corner we sought knowledge that would help us enrich the experiences of our itinerant kehilot as we learn together throughout the Czech Republic, Poland, and Israel.
Our time with the URJ/Ramah camp songleaders’ track was one of the most useful components of the Hava Nashira experience. In addition to reviewing the fundamentals of songleading, everyone planned and led a song session for the rest of the group, both providing and receiving valuable critique for our collective benefit. We also joined forces with the songleaders from URJ Camp Harlam to lead a song session for half of the participants of Hava Nashira, including fun, usable Israeli music both old (Mitachat Lashamayim by David Broza) and new (Ivdu et HaShem by Yonatan Razel). Spending time with our camp-based peers was invaluable. It allowed us to refine our songleading skills while keeping a finger on the pulse of the musical cultures of the 13 URJ camps. This summer we will take with us a beloved, essential element of the camp experience as we scout far and wide.
After the first day with only our URJ/Ramah cohort, we joined with the 150 or so other participants for a first learning session as a full group. The theme of the session was, appropriately enough, a rediscovery of Hebrew music. We sang through many classic songs, including “Eretz Zevat Chalav,” a biblically-rooted idealization of an Eretz Yisrael flowing with milk and honey. In another session, taught by faculty member Merri Arian, we learned some of the catchy, spirited liturgical melodies coming out of progressive Israeli communities such as Nava Tehila, Kehilat HaLev, and Beit Tefilah Israeli. These inventive, outstanding melodies connect us with our brothers and sisters who are on the forefront of a vibrant new culture of community and worship in Israel.
It is so difficult to quantify the sweet devash that we took away from our week at Hava Nashira. More than just a feeling, it is a deep sense of contentment; a mutual admiration conveyed in shared smiles with those around us; a spiritual uplift that brought us beyond ourselves — all this part and parcel of immersing in this community.
Fittingly, during the week of Hava Nashira, we read the Torah’s account of the scouts sent to investigate the promised land. They declare to Moses: “בָּאנוּ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר שְׁלַחְתָּנוּ; וְגַם זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ,הִוא” (Numbers 13.27). Their report? That indeed, it is a land flowing with chalav and devash. As we prepare to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime with teens from all over North America, we offer them words of blessing as they, too, scout out our people’s holy and eternal land. We wish them both the substance and insight of knowledge – that nourishing chalav — as well as the sweetness of devash as they develop personal and emotional relationships with their homeland and with their people.