Monday, November 7, 2016

A miracle, a dove, a tree, a song and a rainbow… Reflections on Shabbat Shira 2016 (at Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on November3-6, 2016)

   As I drove down to El Paso on Wednesday, November 2 for an overnight stay near the airport before an early morning flight, I was intently listening to the last inning of the 2016 World Series.  The call and commentary Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone vividly portrayed this miraculous victory in well-crafted word-pictures that matched and, perhaps, even surpassed the video that I saw later.   The next morning, I flew to Wisconsin for Shabbat Shira, the fall worship/music workshop presented by Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  There were many Cubs fans among the participants who were still beaming with pride and joy.   It seemed appropriate to bring that long-awaited baseball miracle into the beginning of several days together that would be filled to the brim with learning, meaning and a special spirit!
Tzofim Inaugural Session - Olin-Sang Union Institute Camp
June 1967 (Seated, all the way to the left, is the 12 year old
version of the author of this blog) 
      As we read the Torah portion for the week on Shabbat morning at Shabbat Shira, we heard of the release of the dove to find dry land, an effort that eventually met with success.  The dove’s flight brought to mind, for me, my first time at OSRUI in 1967.   It was there and then that I spent my first days ever away from home at the inaugural Tzofim session.  Tzofim (Scouts) took the camp’s approach to community building and Jewish enrichment and placed it into a new context of tents instead of cabins, with a small outdoor sanctuary right by the big tree in our area, and an outdoor kitchen.   As I look back to that summer at camp, I think that each of us in Tzofim was like the dove.  We were not only leaving our homes to taste the awesome responsibility of independence.  We were also demonstrating to the camp that this new program worked.  I returned for more of Tzofim the next summer. Much later, I began attending the Hava Nashira songleader workshop in 1999.   The very place where I first spread my wings to independently grow as a Jewish individual became a site for new growth as an adult.  Hava Nashira, and now Shabbat Shira, enable and encourage us to build community, to develop new friendships and connections, and to find the joy of collegiality with my fellow teachers, singers, songwriters and songleaders.   And there are always moments of being overwhelmed by the sound of spontaneously-generated harmonies on almost everything we sing.   That is but one of the reasons people call this their “happy place.”  
    During the Friday morning service, faculty member Shira Kline asked us to pick up one of the fallen leaves at our feet during a service held just outside the Bayit, one of the original camp buildings.   She asked us to find personal meaning in the leaf we held in our hands.   I looked at the veins of the leaf I picked up.  The vein system in the center of the leaf signified, for me, my story, talents, knowledge, and my family.  There were four other smaller systems of veins, two on each side.   I saw those as a symbol of the webs of relationships that emerged from wherever my family and I have lived and from the many conferences and workshops I have attended that created ongoing networks in the Jewish world. It was just a leaf that I was holding in my hand, but it was as if it alluded, in some way, to everything about my life.   
Lac La Belle from the OSRUI waterfront
    That leaf was loosely tied to an activity in my Shabbat afternoon session, led by faculty member Julie Silver, about the creative process.   She directed us to create images with colored pencils and paints, and to write about what we created.  One of my pictures was of the “Tzofim tree” that was at the center of our section of camp.  I depicted the tree with the small ark in front of it, a tent off to the side, logs and tree stumps on which to sit by the tree for worship, meetings and song sessions.   I was amazed that my mind’s eye could still picture that spot.  At that tree, we engaged in prayer, sang Jewish songs, and discussed Jewish life (just three weeks after the Six Day War of 1967).   Those activities still form the foundation of Jewish communal life all over the world.
Camp Director Jerry Kaye pays tribute to the Shabbat Shira
Faculty: Ken Chasen, Merri Arian, Shira Kline, Julie Silver
and Josh Nelson
       Open mic at Shabbat Shira (and Hava Nashira) always presents an opportunity to share something original or to perform a favorite Jewish or secular song. Informal song sharing at Hava Nashira and Shabbat Shira almost always reveals the common repertoire of secular songs that participants share, no matter the decade in which they were born. My Saturday night 1966 Medley for Open Mic included  songs like “Poor Side of Town” (Johnny Rivers), “Cherish” (The Association), “If I Were a Carpenter” (the Bobby Darin version), and “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes) plus 7 other songs from that year.   1966 was the first year that I listened to top 40 radio, so those songs formed a musical foundation in my life.  As I sang the medley, I realized that I wasn't the only one for whom this was true as I heard “50 part harmonies” easily flowing from the audience to make these oldies come to life!  That response demonstrated that music IS, without question, a powerful unifier. Josh Nelson pointed out, in his session on Spiritual Music and Contemporary Culture, that music is the single most effective way to reach a large group of people at once, and that music experienced in person has the greatest power to move a community. Songs that have stood the test of time, sung in a communal context, have the potential to generate enduring “Good Vibrations” (pun intended!). Our late night musical jams this year engendered a similar spirit, as we revisited some of our favorite songs from the past with singers, instrumentalists, and dancers all adding something to the mix!
And...the rainbow?  I caught a glimpse of a fading rainbow in Las Cruces on Wednesday, November 2, just hours before I made my way to El Paso to catch my flight early the next morning.  It was fortuitous for me to see a rainbow 3 days before I was slated to read the verses in the Torah about the rainbow sign in Genesis Chapter 9 during the Shabbat morning service at Shabbat Shira.    During the Shira Kline/Ken Chasen “Storahtelling” interactive presentation on the Torah reading,  the rainbow was described as an indication of the compassion God would show the world.   From that time on, God would be a Creator and Ruler who would lovingly establish for humanity a path which would guide us to be merciful to one another and supportive of each other, so that we can get through the best days of our lives with heartfelt celebration and endure the hard times with love and caring that could enhance, on a fundamental level, the character of the diverse communities in which we live.   The rainbow is a promise and a beacon of hope.   It carries with it dazzling colors that bring us momentary amazement.   A rainbow is the result of the intersection of all of the right conditions to make it happen.  Our charge and responsibility in our own lives is to create “rainbows” for ourselves and for people around us through all that we say and do. 
    Many thanks to faculty, staff, colleagues and friends at Shabbat Shira for their part in fashioning an overpowering rainbow of inspiration, wisdom, interconnection, new memories, spontaneously-generated musical textures, mutual support, and the realization that there is so much we can do to bring the rainbow back home.


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