Thursday, June 22 was an epic day in 6th-8th grade Tiferet (Arts) Camp at OSRUI! As our Rosh Eidah (unit head) says, “Every day at camp feels like a year, but every week feels like a minute.” Wednesday evening (in Jewish time each evening marks the new day) it was announced that today would be “Yom Musical” (a day celebrating musicals), and anything said between then and aruchat boker (breakfast) needed to be sung. The madrichim (counselors) decorated the chedar ohel (dining hall) and Tiferet Beit Am (arts group meeting space) with classic musical posters featuring some familiar faces. After we finished eating, we reenacted the opening scene of “The Lion King” with me holding my 4-month-old son Emet high above my head while everyone sang.
After evening tzevet (staff) meetings, the Segel (faculty – rabbis, cantors and educators from the community, including me) gathered in the Lodge, which serves as a kind of summer kibbutz for Segel families, for an evening celebrating Camp Director Jerry Kaye’s retirement after 47 years. Stories of were shared deep into the night in a combination of English and Yiddish – the best one being about the time that someone listed the camp “for sale” in the “Chicago Tribune” as a prank – as strawberries from the local Oconomowoc farmers’ market were consumed and a twenty-year wedding anniversary was celebrated. (The secret to longevity when asked for advice? Choosing the right person.)
The next morning I awoke ready for our weekday Torah service (in addition to Shabbat morning, we read on Mondays and Thursdays in a service shorter than some havdalah ceremonies, following an ancient tradition of reading on market days). Breakfast was apples wrapped in pancakes, an exciting treat we appreciated heartily with birkat hamazon, the blessing after meals. (I always like to find a table to lead the prayer that is most enthusiastic about the meal that we’ve just eaten.)
Thursday morning was the first day of Omanut Mishnit (art minors), in which our chanichim (campers) chose from an array of storytelling chugim (elective activities) based in different media: comic book art, folk song, physical theater and creative writing. Tiferet chanichim spend much of their days in studios focused on their craft – music, dance, drama, visual art – so this gives them an opportunity to explore a secondary artistic approaches.
During aruchat tzohorayim (lunch) I led a tzevet (staff) Lunch & Learn called “Text into Song” in which we discussed and sang some of my favorite Jewish texts that I’ve put to music, from my latest album “They Tried To Get Us, We Won, Let’s Eat.” (Get a free download at www.ruachrock.com). On my way back from picking up copies of my text worksheet from the office, I spotted a wild turkey strutting by, which I took as a sign of good luck.
I spent the afternoon in the visual arts studio, as participants made impermanent drawings using salt on black paper. During studio time, my co-Segel Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky and I rotate between each one, and while students are developing their skills, we’ve been discussing our theme for this part of the session, “The Book of Ruth,” which brings up conversations about artistic influences, identity, being an insider or outsider, and important relationships in our lives. I met our new art specialist, Inda, a co-founder of the reform Kibbutz Lotan in Israel. I know two brothers and their dad from Kibbutz Lotan, and it turns out they are her husband and sons! “Small world,” I said. “Small Jewish world,” she replied.
Before aruchat erev (dinner), I met with a group of my chanichim to plan for their turn to lead t’filah (prayer). We started discussing favorite camp melodies and locations, and rather quickly settled on leading their service at sunset on the lake. (A popular choice.) Then someone asked if they could pick their own readings from the siddur (prayer book), and soon the whole group was combing through the pages, calling out page numbers for poetry they wanted to share with the rest of our eidah (camp unit).
I spent the day marinating on the theme of “Yom Musical” and how I could make a theme of our evening t’filah. I decided to make a parallel between the standard structure of a musical and our Jewish service structure, and I introduced each prayer with a few words relating it to the narrative of a musical storyline – opening song/opening number, love song/V’ahavta, dramatic pause/moment of silence. It was a fun new way to connect the meanings of the prayers to each other, framed within our larger theme of storytelling. That’s what I’m really here at camp to do – bring my knowledge of Jewish tradition into everyday camp moments, as well as artistic endeavors, to make them meaningful and memorable!