Light Breaks Through (HTzE)

Light breaks through.
It was night just minutes ago.

I am not a poet,
Yet here I am, inspired to verse.
Change happens so rapidly,
Set in my ways,
Or so I think,
I suddenly realize I am different today
Than yesterday.
More alive?

Light breaks through;
It was night just moments ago.
A calm inspiration seized me.
I have succumbed to it.


A Quote that Means Something to Me Today

I come home from the soaring
in which I lost myself.
I was song, and the refrain which is God
is still roaring in my ears.

Now I am still
and plain:
no more words.

To the others I was like a wind:
I made them shake.
I’d gone very far, as far as the angels,
and high, where light thins into nothing.

But deep in the darkness is God…

From Rilke’s Book of Hours, I,50.

I sense that by the end of summer, when I do finally settle down at home, these words will be even more potent for me than they are in this moment,  striking as they are right now.

Music: Melting-Pot or Fruit Salad?

So far, so good. Camp is going well, I’m enjoying myself and trying many new things – today was yoga. I’m no butterfly, but I’m learning. Pluralism is touchy. Didn’t have the greatest Shabbat this week, but maybe I’m just homesick or feeling out of place. Perhaps I’ll write about it after I have another Shabbat under my belt.

My observation and what’s been on my heart this Shabbat, actually, is musical.

The camp where I’m working has a really interesting musical repertoire. The songs sung here are largely not the “typical” Jewish summer camp songs (at least, based on the camps in which I’ve been a camper and staff, which are all Ramah camps). Sure, every now and then we are graced with a niggun (mostly by Carlebach), but more often than not the songs being sung are Negro spirituals, or borrowed from church groups. They are American folk songs. Every now and then we hear a melody that rings South African or African tribal. Often we chant mantras, a concept that is borrowed from the Buddhist tradition – even if they are chanted using Hebrew text, they don’t ring “Jewish”.

Though it’s a Jewish camp experience, I’m really missing Jewish music. Where have all the augmented-seconds gone?? (For the record, someday I will teach the whole world that Carlebach’s Psalm 29 is not in major.)

Beyond my own yearning, though, came a different sadness. While I acknowledge that we benefit greatly from knowing others’ musical traditions, it’s still a little sad to think that faith groups, cultural groups, and national groups no longer own their own music. We fell that we can sing mantras that ring Buddhist, spirituals that ring African American, chants that ring African, gospel music that rings Baptist. We no longer have to intercourse with these groups in order to share music — we feel entitled and able to sing it for ourselves. But to what end? Because it is meaningful? Why can’t we find meaning in our own music? Why can’t we reinvigorate and compose within our own faith tradition? Why did we abandon our own song?

The poet asks in Psalm 133, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Is this the Lord’s song? Scratch that. Is this our Lord’s song?

Perhaps blurring the lines is a benefit. Perhaps it creates a Unity of Humankind. There are those who would tell you that a Unity of Humankind is exactly what we’ve always been hoping for. After all, the second paragraph of Alénu does tell us that “all flesh and blood will call in [God’s] name.” Well, it’s a nice story, but it doesn’t account for our differences — our beautiful differences. The world is a wonderful place because each person has his/her own voice. Does that principle not extend to cultural groups? Frankly, other faith groups don’t go around singing Jewish music. Maybe they sing a piece or two in choral settings; but not often in worship. And how would we feel if they did?

Yes, we know historically there was cross-sharing when it came to musical traditions. Melodies from the synagogue made their way into the church service, while secular and some church melodies made their way into the synagogue. (For more on this, see Eric Werner’s The Sacred Bridge.) I don’t know — this feels different. William Sharlin talks about active assimilation versus passive assimilation of music: in “active assimilation” (which he discourages), outside music traditions are forced into Jewish worship, while “passive assimilation” allows them to permeate the borders of the music tradition with out being obtrusive. This doesn’t feel like borrowing and repurposing; it feels like stealing.

Then again, as one of my mentors once said, “Who am I to prevent anyone from being exposed to this music?”

So we hang in the balance. In a place that doesn’t insist on a prerequisite knowledge of Hebrew, how do I introduce more Jewish songs into the ethos? Can I leave a uniquely Jewish thumbprint? Can I insist on musical seclusion? Well, probably not. Definitely what to think about as we near the start of the camping season.


Stream of Consciousness

Day 3 of training concluded at camp.
Did you know before you can get calluses on your fingers from playing the guitar you have to endure blisters?
Really, it’s only been three days?
Tonight was the first night I didn’t fall into my tent.
And it took me fifteen minutes to find my tent instead of thirty. I didn’t have to hunt today.
I made some new friends.
I remember almost everyone’s name. Almost 100 people.
The rule of three: there should always be three people traveling together. One to get hurt, one to stay with the injured one, and one to get help.
Getting hurt is not a requirement. Generally, we encourage against it.
Shoes should always have back straps.
Music is amazing, and infuses everything.
Seven more days of training to go.
It feels like it has already been an eternity since I got here. That’s camp.
Is it still bedtime if I’m in a sleeping bag?
Lailah tov.

Misnaged in the Woods

Here I sit in my tent, after a sufficiently long day of packing, driving, meeting new people, singing, communing with nature, farming…

What Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” does not tell us is how the narrator felt five steps into his journey on the lesser-traveled fork. He tells us that his choice had ultimately “made all the difference,” sure — but what about the immediate feelings? Was he immediately sure? Had he chosen with conviction? Five steps into the journey, did he stop in his tracks and ponder retreat to the more-common road?

Rarely have I stood five steps into what promises to be a relatively long road and known with conviction that it would make all the difference. And here I am, knowing, somehow, that my life will be changed by the experience I have ahead of me. Knowing, somehow that the change has already begun.

Today, I weeded in the farm’s edible plant forest. I watched later as seventy people sat silently, each alone but in community, in that farm. I was privy to meaningful sharing in which no one made a single sarcastic remark, no one rolled their eyes, no one was disparaging. I watched as flame emerged from only wood and friction. I taught today; but more than that, I learned.

As I sit in my tent in these dark woods, I can hear the lake rushing out to my left. I can hear the occasional animal creeping by. I am taken by the sound of small branches falling periodically on my roof.

I am surprised by how comfortable I feel to be here. I am pleasantly surprised by how calm I am. And yet, excited. More to come.

Here Goes Everything

As Shabbat ended on Saturday night, I went outside to check for three stars. For a few minutes, I was able to appreciate the bright slender moon, the lovely and clear cobalt-blue darkening sky, and I was able to watch as the stars appeared on the expanse one at a time. In this world of electronics and eternal hurry, we still rely on natural signals to know what time Shabbat ends.

Here is my attempt at “crunchy granola”. I’m as yekkish as they come most of the time…

Which is not to say that I don’t love nature, and is not to say that I don’t appreciate a spiritual moment. It is to say that I prefer the structures provided for me by traditional liturgy and traditional praxis.

So… A journey. This summer will be a journey. Maybe I should say tefillat haderekh before I go. Am I really worried about scary things interfering with my journey? Well, no. Although I do pray that God will keep the ticks, scary animals, and biting bugs as far away from me as possible.

Instead of the traditional tefillat haderekh, I pray for open-mindedness. I pray for guidance to allow my teaching to actualize the potential in my students. I pray for success of my own and my fellows’ endeavors.