What’s Happening at Ramah
Hava Nashira Music Conference Unites Songleaders at Kivun Training for Reform and Conservative Jewish Camp Specialists
by Josh Warshawsky, May 2013
Shabbat Zemirot. Over 200 people, 18 to 85 years old, gather round in semi-circle after semi-circle. In the center of the circle stand seven Ramahniks from four different camps. One stands up on a chair and shouts, “Eileh chamda libi!” And 200 voices call back, “Eileh chamda libi!” Can you feel the ruach? This is not a magical Shabbat in the Holy Land. It’s a Wednesday morning at Hava Nashira, the annual music conference hosted by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI.
For the second year in a row, Ramah songleaders were invited to take part in the Kivun music program with URJ songleaders at Hava Nashira. Ramah camps are looking for new and innovative ways to engage our campers and staff members through music and tefillah. We search for new melodies, new methods, and new energy, and we find all of these at Hava Nashira.
We arrived a day early to prepare and learn with faculty members and Jewish musicians Alan Goodis, Dan Nichols, and Cantor Rosalie Boxt. What is most amazing about Hava Nashira is that the participants are songleaders from different movements in Judaism, with different philosophies and ideologies, and from different camps all across the United States and Canada, but we come together for four days for the sole purpose of singing and building a musical and spiritual Jewish community together.
In that first day and a half of just camp songleaders, we prepare our song sessions for the coming week and workshop them in front of all of the participants. The Ramah songleaders decided to challenge ourselves and the entire community, and we created two song sessions entirely without instruments to simulate a Ramah Shabbat experience. Many of the participants had never thought to try to engage campers or students without a musical instrument, and were pleasantly surprised to see the ruach and the energy we were able to create without instruments.
At the same time, I learned so many new songs and a new repertoire to use back at my own camp, and was wowed time and time again by the talented faculty and the dedication to teaching Jewish music shared by all of the participants. By far the best part for me was returning to Hava Nashira this year to reunite with all of the incredible people I met at last year’s conference. Each participant is incredibly talented in his or her own way, and I leave Hava Nashira this year with an overwhelming confidence in our mission as Jewish songleaders, and with the knowledge that the power of ruach and song continues to be shared with thousands of Jewish youth in the Reform and Conservative movements each summer by a new generation of Debbie Friedmans, Craig Taubmans, and Shlomo Carlebachs. I can’t wait to return to Hava Nashira next year!
"I leave Hava Nashira this year with an overwhelming confidence in our mission as Jewish songleaders, and with the knowledge that the power of ruach and song continues to be shared with thousands of Jewish youth in the Reform and Conservative movements each summer"
- Josh Warshawsky