During the Presidents’ Day weekend, Susan and I journeyed down to St. Louis to attend, for the first time, Rick Recht’s Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC). For those unfamiliar with him, Rick is a former rock ‘n roller who turned his attention to Jewish music some decades ago and has been a wonderful performer and innovator on the Jewish music scene. In addition to creating the SLBC, Rick is the driving force behind Jewish Rock Radio.
RAMAH SHABBATON / SLBC
Our weekend began Friday afternoon with a Camp Ramah sponsored Shabbaton, lasting thru Sunday morning. We immediately were immersed in music, music and more music. Some of it was familiar; much of it was new to me. During the Shabbat hours, no instruments were used (other than the percussion one can produce from a siddur, one’s hands or one’s feet). Still, the one hundred fifty or so (largely HS & College student) attendees filled every room and every tefila with “a joyous noise.” As I described it last Friday night to our own Shabbat crowd, it was like B’Chavana on steroids – even when a new piece was taught, right away first, second and third harmonies were added.
On Sunday afternoon, our ranks were enhanced with another one hundred fifty or so participants, mostly young adults, all musicians and artists and teachers and leaders in the Jewish community. Through Tuesday afternoon, there were program slots one after the other, each one featuring a half-dozen or more workshops on music, leadership, prayer and more. The workshops were led by some of the most innovative and thoughtful people working in North America today. Typical titles were “Insights and Innovations Around Shema,” “Tachlis for Spiritual Troubadours,” “Who’s Calling the Shatz: What It Means To Lead Others In Prayer,” and “Music for Thriving.”
And, of course, during, before and after those sessions you could find people hanging out in classrooms, hallways and coat closets sharing their songs and ideas with one another – not to mention the late night jam sessions (that I only heard about the next morning, since I needed my beauty sleep).
AN OPTIMISTIC FUTURE?
Because I’m a rabbi, I’m not allowed to say this, but of late I’ve not been thinking very optimistically about the future existence, much less vibrancy, of liberal Judaism in America. The demographics do not point towards a rosy future and anecdotes from our lives – and those of our children – don’t necessarily give much hope either.
However, the weekend showed me young Jewish leaders, and potential leaders, creating new, vibrant and uplifting modes and melodies for Jewish prayer. The beauty of their creations, fueled by the faith and passion of their souls, said to me that they might yet provide a future spirituality that will serve and attract our children, if not our grandchildren after them. In fact, many of them already are doing that in their synagogues and schools and communities around North America already.
The joy and music of the weekend not only helped to refill my own spiritual gas tank, then, it also helped to move the needle on my outlook for our future.
If all this sounds interesting to you, check out the website and plan to attend next year. There is a good chance that Susan and I will return and we could enjoy it together.
NEW THINGS FOR B’CHAVANA?
In the meantime, I want to try out some of the modes and melodies that we experienced during the weekend. The first time will be on Friday night, March 20th. We’ll have a chance not only to experience some of these new things – some of which are not so far from what we do already, interestingly enough – and then to discuss them, as well as considering together why we pray at all. I hope you’ll put that in your calendar right now.
My hope is that we will, as always, continue to broaden and deepen our opportunities for reflection, introspection and prayer – and thereby broaden and deepen our souls and our journey through the world.