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Harmony: Hava Nashira 2015

Rachel MarcusGuest blogger Rachel Marcus is a third-year staff member and this summer’s Rosh Shira at Camp Ramah in California. She attends the University of California, Berkeley studying psychology, Jewish studies, and history.

Harmony (noun): the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect. If I could describe my past week with one word, it would be harmony. It was not only the harmony of the musical notes that covered my skin with goose bumps and filled my heart with joy, but the harmony of the URJ (Union of Reform Judaism) and Ramah camps working as one.


Ramahniks lead a song session for the Ramah/URJ cohort at Hava Nashira

This past week, as Rosh Shira at Camp Ramah in California, I was privileged enough to be sent to Hava Nashira, an annual songleading and music conference hosted by the URJ at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI. Ramah songleaders began their harmony with URJ four years ago through Kivun, a joint program of the URJ and Ramah camping movements. Although this was my first year in attendance, I could already see our two different melody lines converge as one. Both of us are looking for new tools to put in our belts, new songs to sing, and new resources to call upon. Both of us have the same aim: to enhance the summers and lives of our campers through Jewish music. And both of us are looking outside of our comfort zones to reach these goals.


Ramahniks at Hava Nashira

After returning home in the dead of night and sleeping a total of thirteen hours, I have almost fully recuperated from this week full of music, inspiration, and harmony with some lessons learned. One: you can translate almost every song into Hebrew. As part of the Conservative movement, Ramah’s music is almost exclusively in Hebrew and therefore needs to be a part of the repertoire we bring to our camps. Two: we have so much to learn not only from the URJ camps but also from each other as Ramah camps. I gained so much knowledge just by talking to other Ramah staff about what shira and music are like at their camps and seeing how I can bring their ideas and incorporate them into my camp. And finally, three: a harmony can be added to anything. Hava Nashira is a pure example of different movements of Judaism coming together for the betterment of Judaism as a religion and as a whole. We came to collaborate with each other, to learn from each other, to teach each other. We came to sing, to listen, and to be in silence together. We came to harmonize.

Arik Maurice, Rosh Shira at Ramah Darom

Arik Maurice, Rosh Shira at Ramah Darom

In the late hours of Shabbat, after our seudat shlishit, the third meal, the Ramahniks sat on the floor of the chadar ohel and blurred the labels of California, Wisconsin, or Darom, and just sang. We sang the slow, soft, spiritual tunes that unite all of our camps as we say goodbye to Shabbat.
Not written down in the program or the schedule and with everyone there to see, we started with a circle of maybe five of us. Moved by the music, I closed my eyes and after a couple minutes I opened, acknowledging a large chunk of the URJ songleaders who had sat down. As the music continued and the harmonies added on, more songleaders–young and old alike–sat down to join us. Knowing the words at this moment was not important to those unfamiliar; all that mattered was that you let the music move you. As we increased in number, we turned the circle into a clump. A clump that didn’t care if you knew the words or not, a clump that had no judgments, a clump that wasn’t concerned whether you were from Ramah or URJ, or Conservative or Reform. It was a clump that only heard harmony. And I can’t wait to create this harmony once again at Hava Nashira next year.


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