As we enter the month of Adar and begin preparing for Purim, we try to emulate the old rabbinic dictum to increase our happiness. Our Purim celebration gives us time to prioritize community, friendship, tradition, and — importantly — joy.
A strong, vibrant, joyous Jewish community includes everyone — young and old, givers and receivers, teachers and students, leaders and followers — welcoming and involving all in our daily lives and during our festive occasions, regardless of ability. In my own experience, both personally and professionally, I believe that when we sing together, we deepen our sense of community, belonging, and engagement.
I know we need to sing more to bring more much-needed joy into our world today.
I recently returned from two days in St. Louis observing an amazing, inspiring “happening,” Song Leader Boot Camp. Created 11 years ago by Rick Recht and Rabbi Brad Horowitz, this “camp” has grown tenfold, from 40 to 400 attendees, and is a catalyst for a developing culture of intentional, joyous Jewish education and engagement in camps, youth groups, schools, congregations, and JCCs across the country. SLBC — which also stands for “Sharing Love and Building Community” — reminds us that joyful song has the ability to unite community with inspired leadership.
I still can’t wipe the smile off my face or get the new tunes out of my head!
We know that Jewish experiences filled with song and dance break down barriers and build up communities. I felt that, and much more, as I listened and learned, and as I got swept up in the ruach and infectious happiness of this special gathering. This “camp” experience provided great preparation for Adar, Purim, and more.
The SLBC team set a wonderful example of communal connection and left nothing to chance. They prepared for every detail, greeted everyone with warm smiles and positivity, provided easy instructions and signage, and made us all feel welcomed, valued, and important. From the opening program, filled with music and song, we instantly felt part of a whole, harmonious, and sacred community.
The dynamic faculty of cantors, rabbis, educators, musicians, and song leaders offered a range of workshops and resources, from skill-building to storytelling, tachlis to text, intentionality to mindfulness. With creativity and inspiration, sessions covered “What It Means to Lead Others in Prayer,” “Six Essential Ingredients to Your Jewish Program,” and “The Art of the Niggun.” They reminded me how song leading, in its broadest sense, requires both art and science to deliver its most powerful impact.
I attended the Super Soul concert, featuring both new and familiar tunes, which were introduced by compelling and inspirational stories. I stayed for SLBC Late Night, during which the young, amazingly talented winners of the competitive Jewish Rock Radio Jewish Star Season 2 performed. Even though it was way past my bedtime, I did not want the evening to end!
The next morning, I attended a two-hour Shacharit service I will not forget. Conducted in the JCC’s Black Box Theatre in the Round, with terrific acoustics and an intimate feeling, the community came together as one through harmony, hand-movements, and happiness. I may not have been fully familiar with tunes and dance moves beforehand, but I caught up quickly and felt filled with kavanah and connection.
I share these details simply to indicate how powerful music, dance, and song can be in creating a happy, joy-filled communal experience — one that is innately Jewish.
These elements long have been a part of Jewish summer camps, and sharing them helps to uncover some of the intentional magic of why camp works in creating community and strong Jewish identity. I’m proud that Jewish camps across North America offer such compelling and meaningful musical experiences to young people. Jewish camps create lifelong connections, in part, by delivering holistic, joyous Jewish experiences. Years later, these aspects of camp are the most remembered and treasured.
However, these powerful elements are not — and should not — be limited to camps in the summertime.
Thriving congregations and minyanim today have adopted and incorporated intentional, inspirational communal singing into their services. Every voice contributes. When every voice is raised in song, it represents the best of our communal Jewish experience: our voices merge together as one as we sing the same song, yet the unique timbre of each individual voice adds essential depth and richness to the melody.
In Judaism, we hear, see, and feel all voices and value unity through diversity.
Think about your own experiences in various congregational frameworks. I bet you’ll agree that more singing does in fact generate deeper connections, ultimately bringing more joy to you and those around you.
As we prepare to celebrate Purim, may we all smile a little more, sing out just a little louder, and fully immerse ourselves our families in joyous Judaism.
Learn more about the SLBC at www.songleaderbootcamp.com.