Imagine a place where individuals from across the globe join together for the same purpose: to create music and learn from one another. This place exists as the annual Hava Nashira music conference located at the URJ Olin Sang Rubi Union Institute in Oconomowoc Wisconsin. Hava Nashira was the brainchild of Debbie Friedman z”l and Cantor Jeff Klepper; two pioneers of today’s Jewish music. The idea for this conference was created during the first incarnation of Hava Nashira. Back then, it was just a few people sitting in a house singing, teaching songs, and working on technique. Today’s conference has become a magical family gathering of over 250 Jewish musicians, ranging in age from 18-85.
Whether it’s your first time to your 10th time, you always have this life changing experience at Hava Nashira. It’s five days of intense music workshops ranging from religious school music to primal song leading to Chai Pad! Each year I have participated I feel as though I walk in as one person and walk out completely different; with a song in my heart and my soul filled.
This was my fifth time attending the conference and the fourth time that I was part of the URJ/Ramah Song Leading Track. Despite the fact that I had been in this track in the past, this time I was coming in with new eyes. Previously, I attended as a representative of URJ Camp Newman, where I served as a song leader. This year I will be song leading at a different URJ Camp: 6 Points Sports Academy. As one might imagine, the culture of a sports specialty camp is quite different. I had many questions: Will my new camp enjoy singing as much as my previous camp? What type of songs will I need to learn for my new repertoire? What types of musical traditions are already in place? These unanswered questions made me anxious and excited! I was ready to enter Hava Nashira in brand new way with my new camp in mind.
Each year at Hava Nashira we are broken up into a few different URJ/Ramah camp groups to lead shira after meals. This year, I was placed in a group with Henry S. Jacobs Camp and Greene Family Camp, both of which have incredibly strong music cultures. When we met for the first time we each had a similar goal in mind: What does our camp need to work on musically? We all agreed to focus on a breakfast style song session, a common camp shortfall. This moment provided me the opportunity to test out a new idea I have been developing for 6 Points Sports Academy: “Modeh Ani Stretches”. This may sound a little funny, but having used this technique previously at camps and NFTY, kids love it. Leading “Modeh Ani Stretches” for the Hava Nashira community was a risk, but one I was willing to take. Before leading my part of the song session I explained to the Hava Nashira community that 6 Points is a sports specialty camp, so I wanted to do something active while singing. Fortunately, this community is so open-minded, you can say just about anything to this group of people and they will go with you. I felt as though my plan was a success! With a little tweaking, I know I will have something that I can incorporate into the culture of my new camp community.
A relatively new addition to Hava Nashira is the Kivun program. I was lucky enough to participate as a Kivun Fellow these past two years. The Kivun program brings together specialist from URJ Camps and Ramah Camps to have an intensive few days of workshops on their specialty area such as art, music, and sports. It’s by far one of my favorite things about Hava Nashira. Making new friends from the Ramah camps last year and seeing them again was fantastic. The music that the Ramah camps bring to the URJ track is new and innovative. This year one of my favorite things they taught us was a song that was taken from a Bumble Bee Tuna commercial. It is so catchy and has Hebrew lyrics creatively incorporated. Learning from the Ramah song leaders is such a gift that Kivun has brought to the URJ track. It gives us a new perspective on old things which is always useful.
I am really excited to be working as a song leader at 6 Points Sports Academy. The biggest things that I will take from Hava Nashira is not only the new music, but the idea that song leading doesn’t just start with a song but truly starts with the connections you make with your fellow staff members and campers. It’s not about having people watch you try to teach a new song or lead a prayer it’s about getting to know the people in your camp community, gaining their trust and working together to create a magical summer.