Rabbinic and Cantorial school is most probably considered a magical time in a Rabbi’s and Cantor’s life. For many of us we had begun our studies in Jerusalem, learning the holy language and learning to love our Jewish Homeland. Being thousands of miles from our friends and family has an affect on the student and bonds of friendship with fellow classmates can be strong and long lasting. I consider all my classmates like brothers and sisters, a weird extension of my family.
I have to say that my first year class in Jerusalem was pretty special. The academic year 1992-1993 was, for me, the beginning of that magical time and every day of my year in Israel was a profound lesson unto itself. Just living in the Holy Land had a huge impact on who I am today and I believe that many of the seeds of my future cantorate had been sown in that first year.
For the first time I was totally immersed in the Jewish experience. Everything I was learning was new and exciting and truly deepened my perception of the Divine and increased my sense of radical amazement. I would dare to say that being in Israel was like being on some higher spiritual plane and as a result the majority of what I learned in Israel has informed my development as a human and clergy person.
Although I had done much song leading at my father’s Temple and my summer camp, when I was in high school, I still had a lot to learn about the art and repertoire of leading Jewish songs. I was in awe of my classmates who clearly had mastered the techniques of great musical leadership and I benefitted in learning from them. To top off the year I had the great thrill of learning from Debbie Friedman, Cantor Jeff Klepper and Rabbi Danny Freelander at the second Hava Nashira, the incredible Jewish song leader and musician institute and retreat held every June since 1992.
There was a very small group of us in comparison with how popular Hava Nashira has become so we had a lot of access to our teachers. Demonstrating our technique in front of the group was intimidating but the feedback that I received from Debbie, Jeff and Danny was invaluable. It was at this Hava Nashira that my friend and classmate, Rabbi Lisa S Tzur, and I debuted our newly composed Bedtime Sh’ma. We had written this together one night in my apartment in Jerusalem and I think we both thought that we had created something beautiful. This is a very dear and important memory of mine, creating our song.
That summer, when I worked as the Head Song Leader of Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I taught the staff and eventually the campers our melody. Little did I know that the Bedtime Sh’ma, as Lisa and I had composed and arranged the liturgy, would still be sung today at many Jewish summer camps. It was even published in the Union for Reform Judaism’s songbook, Shireinu. It has been an honor to know that this melody, written by first year rabbinic and cantorial students twenty-five years ago in the Land of Israel, has received such recognition.