Monday, June 11, 2012

That God's song may be with me - Reflections on Hava Nashira 2012 - June 11, 2012

Faculty members Rabbi Noam Katz, Merri Arian, and
Rabbi Ken Chasen (confirmed at my home congregation)
teach a song with Basya Schechter at right
looking on (and probably adding percussion)
    On May 31, 2012, I was ready for my first learning session at the Hava Nashira Songleading and Music workshop at Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  I had decided to attend a songwriting intensive with Basya Schechter, whom I had seen in concert in Lawrence, Kansas with her group, Pharaoh’s Daughter, in 2005.   After each member of our songwriting group shared something about his or her background in Jewish music, Basya gave us our first challenge: to compose a melody to go with a text.  I don’t know if she gave us these small pieces of paper at random or if there was a reason that we each received a particular text.   She gave me a sheet that bore the text of Psalm 42, verses 1 and 2:
Like a deer cries for water, my soul cries for you, God;
My soul thirsts for God, the living God;
When will I come to appear before God?
    I really didn’t know if I would be able to create a melody on the spot, but the notes came quickly as I sang the Hebrew text to myself.  When it was my turn to present what I had composed, I sang what became the beginning to a new song, to which I added other verses from Psalm 42 after I returned home:
By day, may the Eternal command kindness
so that, at night, God’s song may be with me,
a prayer to God, the God of my life.
I will yet praise God, my ever-present help, my God.
 You can find the completed song at this link (play the song "Tzam'ah Nafshi"on the player):
    I have been thinking about the meaning of that text in relation to the Hava Nashira experience. 
"Jamming" on Shabbat afternoon
 This year, my eleventh time attending this incredible workshop, provided opportunities to hear new music, to exchange newly-created songs with fellow participants, to perform in front of our peers, to “jam” on our favorite songs (Jewish and/or secular), and to build community that continues past these few days spent in Wisconsin.  I watched our talented faculty lead us in learning, communal singing and worship that easily elicited our enthusiastic participation. I marveled at the webs of relationships across Jewish communities that this event engenders and strengthens. 
With rabbinic students
Rachael Klein and Bess Wohlner,
fellow Congregation B'nai Jehudah confirmands
     In light of the words of Psalm 42, I believe that one of our goals in attending Hava Nashira is to feel that God’s song is with us as we join our voices together and as we hear expressions of biblical texts, prayers and songs that express the depth of the Jewish spirit.  A second goal for each of us is to learn how music can help us as individuals, and enable members of the communities which we serve, to feel that God’s song is within us and accompanying us along our way.  Music can help us reach into our souls and outward to others to reveal the many ways in which we can grow closer together within our congregations, at camps and community centers, and between faith groups, seeing more clearly the spark of the divine in one another.
Erev Shabbat Song Session
    I am thankful for new friendships and for relationships that continue and deepen with my fellow “Hava Nashirites,” for the life connections that are brought to light (such as four of us present who were all confirmed at Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City – all rabbis or rabbis-to-be), and for the inspiration, the song, that we take with us as each Hava Nashira workshop concludes.   Todah rabbah to faculty and participants for being wise and supportive fellow travelers along our spiritual and musical life’s journey!

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