Please Note: Cantor Wally is available to give an interactive, participatory presentation based on this paper as a workshop, keynote, or sing-along. The demonstration has received rave reviews at the UAHC Biennial in Orlando, at CAJE in Colorado, at the American Conference of Cantors' regional convention in Southern California, and at HUC in Los Angeles. Please contact him for details.



Project Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree of Master of Sacred Music

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

School of Sacred Music

New York, New York


February 7, 1996

Advisor: Rabbi Lester Bronstein



Now that I am an active Reform Jewish adult, I realize that my most positive Jewish and identity-building experiences were formed at one of the Reform movement’s youth camps, UAHC (Union of American Hebrew Congregations) Camp Swig. There, among the giant redwood trees, God came to me in the music we made. It was the music that marked moments of the day, from prayer services to campfires, from Birkat HaMazon [grace after meals] to formal youth choirs that effectively drew me into being Jewish. It was the singing that gave me moments of ‘religious consciousness,’ that taught me and my fellow campers basic Hebrew, that helped us express our feelings as teenagers and that we took with us back home.

I also attribute my decision to become a cantor to the music -- my affection for it, connection to it, and desire to pass it on to youth. As many of my peers and counselors went on to pursue careers as Jewish leaders, lay and professional, I set out to study seriously the music of Reform youth, specifically within the camping movement, to find how this music was chosen, what was the reason behind the singing, and what lessons can be taken from the "camp" experience and incorporated into synagogue life. What I discovered is that the choice of music had more to do with the conscious goal of wedding American pop culture with Judaism in order to make it accessible to teenagers, while the unconscious result was an increase in Jewish awareness, expression, identity and knowledge.

Music, as it has been popularized among Reform youth, and its style has had a tremendous effect on the Jewish world. The undercurrent that moved the songs in the youth movement is breaking as waves on the shores of today’s synagogues. The growing trend of incorporating participatory musical style into the synagogue service grew out of the creative liturgy of the youth camps. Singing Jewish music as a community of voices decreases the distance between leader and congregation. The use of folk guitar in the religious school, in the youth service and at times in adult worship is increasing. Techniques for helping today’s liberal synagogues evolve into the next century might be found by looking at the evolution of the Reform camping movement, with particular attention paid to its music program.

I use the term Reform to identify specifically youth affiliated with a UAHC camp, congregation, or youth group; youth as adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18; and music as singing informally, as choirs, in services, in religious schools, or playing instruments, with special emphasis on songs sung informally as a group, and with particular attention paid to "song sessions" and their content sung with groups within camp. The term "songleader" will be used to mean the musical conductor. I will focus generally on NFTY (The North American Federation of Temple Youth) as a national movement, illustrating in specific terms what occurred at NFTY’s Kutz Camp in New York, where teens would gather from all over the country, and UAHC Swig Camp in California, for most of its life cut off from the East Coast NFTY "headquarters" yet which echoed cultural styles in similar ways.

In the following pages I will give an overview of music popular with youth in the Reform movement, touching on these subjects: the origins of Reform camping; the message of camp; music and camping; "Defining the Camps: The 1950s"; "The Second Generation: The 1960s"; "An Amazing Transition: The 1970s"; "The Redefining Era: The 1980s" (including sub-topics a) new publications, b) the Shabbat song session, and c) a need for highly skilled songleaders); "The Overstimulating 1990s"; what we have learned; the synagogue youth music program; Reform camps’ effect on synagogue music; and what the future holds.


Nationally organized youth activities within the Reform movement began with the founding of the National Federation of Temple Youth in 1939 by the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, to foster and maintain a network of temple youth groups, which stresses both religious and educational programming. Currently NFTY includes synagogues in Canada (and therefore the "N" now stands for North American), lends its name to regional youth networks across the United States, and runs summer trips and study programs in Israel.

Jewish camping has its roots in the Talmudic era with semi-annual kallot during the months of Adar and Elul and the Sabbaths of study that preceded the festivals. These kallot, as cites Salo Baron in Social and Religious History of the Jews, "enabled men of various walks of life, residing in different parts of the country, to devote the month preceding the High Holy Days or Passover to concentrated study and exchange of thoughts with one another under the guidance of the greatest rabbis of the generation."

After World War II, Rabbi Samuel Cook, then Director of Youth Activities of NFTY - UAHC, began to change the youth organization from one of adults leading teen activities to one where young members led their peers. To accomplish this goal, Rabbi Cook set up centralized "National Leadership Training Institutes", during which Jewish young people learned how to lead youth groups and take the skills back home. "Music was a big part of the institutes; young people would then lead others in song." Rabbi Eugene Borowitz was dean of the first three Institutes, which started in 1948 and ran for two weeks during the summer at varying retreat sites. Borowitz and other staff members would lead singing as the need arose.

Modern Jewish camping arose out of the 19th-century discoveries that change in environment helps to affect behavior and that adolescence is a distinctive period of emotional growth. After the success of several camping models such as Samson Benderly’s Cejwin (Central Jewish Institute) camps, the Jewish Centers camps (with the original goal of Americanizing Jews) and the Ramah camps (from its inception a recruiting tool for the Jewish Theological Seminary), a group of Reform rabbis sought to establish their own denominational camp. The first "Union Institute" camp, designed to be a place for teens to "study and pray, work and play," was established in 1951 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin as a retreat site for Chicago-area synagogues. One of its goals was to keep youths involved in Judaism after being confirmed at age 13 or 14, and it followed a model set not by previous Jewish camps but by Christian camps and German Jewish youth groups. The structure and program were run largely by rabbis and their families from the Chicago region. Once the facility was paid for, control was given over to the UAHC. The network of Union home camps nation-wide now numbers nine from California to Massachusetts with five more camps owned by Reform synagogues.


The camp setting is a unique society: adolescents live, eat, sleep, learn, explore and succeed in small groups of people their own age, supervised by a college student who is an "older sibling" rather than a parent, traveling by foot to all areas of their world, while their day is structured for them in group activities and individual free time. Part of the camp experience provides for teens’ social needs because of the communal environment: intensity, peer support and ability to meet other people like themselves in a Jewish environment. In this sense, it almost would not matter what actual learning was planned by the administration -- "the experience is the doing of it while the teenagers deal with their emotions." Indeed, the founder of the first Reform camp, Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman, saw the success of the camp in developing "fond emotional responses to Judaism, (making) Judaism exciting, vibrant, beautiful -- maybe even to some extent romantic...."

Also, the camping environment gives a sense of a model society: no cars, "everyone wins," you are fed for free, your superior is only a few years older than you, rabbis are in t-shirts and shorts, and every moment of the day is planned for you with your health, safety and emotional satisfaction in mind. Jewish education becomes exciting and first-hand -- counselors are no longer counselors but shtetl dwellers; the maintenance truck turns into the ship Exodus; the songs campers sing as Egyptian slaves are really telling Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" The Jewish experience does not play out in front of the campers; rather, they are all participants. Camp is where children who have never been exposed to kippot [skull caps], tallitot [prayer shawls] and t’fillin [phylacteries] experiment in a comfortable environment. And, music marks every point of the day, from songs that explain the themes of each specialized group in camp to the fight songs of Israel-themed color-war teams to the "good and welfare" songs sung around the friendship circle. As modeled by the Yeshiva Orthodox community, the camp society is "in this world, but not of this world."

The meta-message, and latter part of the name, of Camp Swig in Saratoga, California (an hour’s drive from San Francisco) is Living Judaism. In addition to the social context of children living together, the camp tries to set up a learning environment that shows the campers it is possible to incorporate Judaism into their lives. That is, every moment of the day and summer and each place in camp is punctuated by the use of Hebrew, prayer time, and the rhythms of the Jewish week. Campers find a safe environment to experiment with Jewish ritual. The camp attracts children of families who belong to UAHC member congregations, and offers financial aid to those who demonstrate a need for it. When Reform camping was begun, one of the goals was to give families an alternative to expensive private camps. Over the past ten years, as insurance rates have climbed, the camp has had to raise "tuition" with the result that most of the campers are now from middle- to upper-middle-class-income families.

The direction of education in the camps comes from a "program director", "educational director", or "assistant director". These college students or recent college graduates, in consultation with other staff members, define the issues to be explored during the summer. More often than not, the issues that are most important to the staff become the programmatic themes for the summer. Therefore, the teens in camp grapple with the subjects facing their college-age supervisors (who are also struggling with issues of identity, yet know more eloquently how to express themselves) -- if the staff gets excited about an issue, it is easy for NFTY teens to want to emulate their role models and take on the same issue. This concept plays a large part in shaping the music curriculum.


Music in the camping movement seems to have been defined by the era in which it was sung, affected greatly by world events, politics and technology. Camps were where adolescents gathered to form a community; a mini-society. Singing begins as a family activity, and this "family" atmosphere is created in the camp community.

In the history of music at camping institutions, camp singing was strictly for fun, spirit building and mood setting. At retreats in the Catskills or with the Boy Scouts of America, for instance, songs were performed and sung informally around the table and campfire. Singing became a natural, integral part of the communal camping experience in general.

For teens in a camp away from parents, singing became a way of expressing emotions, sentiments, solidarity and sending messages. Camp by nature is a marginal institution, and Reform camps with college students (naturally more radical than society in general) as role models were quick to respond to the waves of social change, moreso than were sponsoring congregations. The songs of any particular era reflected American folk styles (lagging behind at least two to three years), current political sentiment, the latest appealing Jewish music and whatever were the most popular songs the previous summer as recalled by returning campers and staff.

Music is made use of in the Union camps in a variety of ways. Classes in basic guitar playing are offered at many. Choir workshops, musical show writing and performing, and "songleading institutes" may take up several hours per day. Special bedtime lullabies might be sung or concerts might be given. Certain types of Jewish music are chosen for dancing; a certain set of tunes might be played and/or sung at flag ceremonies. Songs are written or adapted during the summer to educate, build spirit and unify. At Swig, each age group within camp has a "session song" expressing the theme it is studying. Original songs have been written for arts festivals and camp-wide programs. Songs which are ‘adopted’ from folk culture speak to the concerns of campers. In each way, music serves to further the goals of the summer sessions and reinforce the philosophy of camp.


By the time the Union Institutes were set up in the 1950s, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie and the Kingston Trio (on guitars and banjos) were folk idols whose style encouraged participatory singing. While folk music was never the popular music of America, folk singers attracted a large teen following. Leaders of singing in the very American (by this time second- or third-generation) Reform camps copied the style of these folk icons. Most of the repertoire was folk songs. Camps were expressing and becoming what "the establishment" in America was not.

Communal singing was also expressive of Judaism, wrote Rabbi Eugene Borowitz at the time. "In ensemble singing the individual is linked to his brothers in a community of effort and action which is indicative of what we mean when we speak of ours being a community religion." Songs were sung a cappella, or accompanied by guitars and banjos. The steel-stringed acoustic guitar was a folk adaptation of the smaller, more delicate classical guitar made of soft woods and nylon strings. The new, brighter-sounding guitar was made of harder woods and stretched metal strings to more than 160 pounds of tension across a larger sounding board. It was a recent development of the Martin guitar company, designed for folk and blues singers who needed a sound loud enough to carry throughout a crowd, yet which required no electrical power. The banjo was the instrument of choice for some musical role models of the time, so it and the guitar were chosen over the equally qualified accordion and other stringed instruments. While not as portable, some singers led with the piano.

In light of the relatively recent birth of the Jewish state, "hialutznik" songs became popular in camp. Specifically, "Tzena Tzena" (which was also recorded by The Weavers), "Zum Gali Gali", and "Ufaratzta" became regular camp favorites. Even in this age before mass air travel, folk singers Noel Blanc and Lew Barth from Los Angeles toured America with banjos in various gatherings of youth, and their style was copied by songleaders at UAHC camps.

Singing was done a cappella the first few summers at Camp Swig (at the time, called Camp Saratoga). Repertoire was chosen from American folk songs, "some Hebrew, a little Yiddish, and some hymns from the old Union Songster." The first songleader at Swig was Cantor William Sharlin, who had been to Oconomowoc the previous few summers, and who says the music goals in 1955 were "to sing and have a good time." Although the staff of many Institutes had led songs as needed, Sharlin was the first staff member with a professional music background hired to "take singing to the next level." The songbook Swig used was from the Jewish Agency from the 1940s. Sharlin was a cantor in his mid-’30s when he led; by comparison, today’s songleaders are high-school and college-age, and some are twenty-something. No set curriculum was instituted, although most of the song sessions helped prepare for Shabbat. Since Sharlin had come from the only other Union Institute, the repertoire of both was virtually the same. By the second summer Swig was in session, the natural phenomenon of "tradition" had come into play -- since campers had been there before, they expected a certain number of songs to remain the same. The kavannah [spontaneous] of the first campers had become the keva [fixed] of the second summer. This circumstance has been both a blessing and a curse to the camping movement ever since.

Campers would sing after every meal, and the most important curriculum component for the songleader to worry about was an even balance between two or three English folk and protest songs, such as "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", "She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain", "Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd", and two or three Hebrew songs from liturgy and the modern State of Israel, like "Hava Netzei B’Machol", "Atzei Zeitim Omdim", "Sim Shalom". Hebrew was pronounced the way it was learned in synagogue -- that is, with an Ashkenazi dialect. Sharlin said the songs were written on large pieces of butcher paper and posted around the hIadar ohIel [dining hall] during the week, and they would be taken down for Shabbat, by which time the campers had memorized the songs.

Many Hebrew songs which found their place in the Reform camps were supplied by the Jewish "rebel" with a guitar as his "weapon", Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who began to spread his songs across the world in the late 1950s and early 1960s.


By the 1960s, many varieties of residential and day camps had come into being, and to send a child to a Jewish camp from among all others was to make a statement. There were six Union camps by the early ‘60s, and naturally there was a difference in repertoire between the six. In the Reform camps, labor unions and civil rights became the causes behind the American songs. Brotherhood songs were popular. "We Shall Overcome", "We Shall Not Be Moved", and "Dona Dona" took their place on the popular camp song list. "This music articulated what Reform Judaism was about: if you were a Jew, you cared about your fellow man, and that meant you cared about Israel. It made us feel authentic as Jews." Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan and other inheritors of the legacy of Woody Guthrie determined the folk styles of the time. The songs in Hebrew that were sung had only a few lines and a chorus that repeated many times. "Sim Shalom" was popular since it was simple Hebrew and was about peace. A controversy arose at Swig when it was proposed that the first paragraph of the Birkat HaMazon be chanted after meals -- it was much more Hebrew than ‘normal’ for one piece. The compromise that was reached included posting the Hebrew, with vowels, and transliteration on a large sheet of butcher paper on the wall.

The early ‘60s saw the rise of the freedom riders’ movement and the popularization of the songs they sang. These songs were assembled in songbooks for the various camps and hung as banners from walls in the dining halls. The small, thick, wire bound songbook from Oconomowoc, which included more Hebrew songs than were sung at other camps, was widely in use in many regions. A "Chordster", with only the words and chords to the most frequently sung songs, was issued in New York, as a section in the back of the "NFTY Songster". The Songster included songs in English, Hebrew songs (in transliteration), some with Hebrew characters (but no vowels), and no translations. The problem with the Chordster, of course, was "ha-meivin yavin, only those who knew the music from learning it some other way would know how to sing and play the song," so it became a relatively secretly held body of material. NFTY songleaders sometimes purchased records that were popular in USY (United Synagogue Youth) and ‘adopted the best songs,’ and USYers did the same with NFTY’s music, so naturally there was some overlap. There was no ‘songleader network’, even between NFTY and neighboring Ramah groups, and the West Coast regions were all but cut off from NFTY headquarters in the East.

Suddenly, it seemed, everyone wanted to play a guitar. Nobody who was "cool" played the cello or flute -- only guitar, and teens would sit under the trees at camp refining the four chords they knew, which fit most songs. This was also the first generation of songleaders who had attended the camps as teens, rather than cantors and musicians brought in from the outside.

The ‘60s was about youth -- "the youth believed in itself; the youth knew what was really going on; the youth had the feeling that if everyone sang loud enough and long enough, music really would save the world." A song that embodied this thought-into-action attitude, which continues to be sung in some Reform camps, is "Dreamer" by Lorre Wyeth: "What do we do when it’s peace that we want... / We’ll gather all our friends from the ends of the Earth... / We’ll work all day ‘til peace is real!" It was because of youthful optimism and assertiveness that some control of the agenda was taken away from the rabbis and cantors who had set up the camps the previous decade. Joan Baez was brought to camp Swig by the young staff members to perform two concerts. Jewish music in the youths’ experience had been led by a seemingly old male cantor in a robe, and was now being led by a young female counselor in shorts and a tie-dyed shirt yelling, "Louder!"

At the same time that the children of the ‘60s were freely expressing themselves, all individual expression stopped on Friday evening at Camp Swig. Carol Levy, a songleader in the 1960s, explained how on Shabbat, everyone got "squeaky clean," dressed in a white top and blue bottom, and filed into the hIadar ohIel singing "The sun on the treetops no longer is seen / Come gather to welcome the Sabbath, our queen." In the midst of speaking out against the establishment, camp managed to unify with music on Shabbat.

The weekday evening song session at Swig in the 1960s always included "rabble-rousing songs, loud and exciting," to build enthusiasm for the evening program. Since the college students leading the songs had been attending "coffee houses", their leadership styles reflected "long-winded introductions about our inner souls while strumming one chord." Many of the song sessions reflected a then popular television show called "Hootenanny". Shabbat was always quiet and subdued as opposed to the "rowdy, bonfire-type song sessions" saved for the weekday. The camp was half the size it is today, only housing 150 campers, and everyone came for the same nineteen days.

In 1965, NFTY began holding one- to two-week summer seminars at its new Warwick facility, Kutz Camp (the seminars had been held previously in Cleveland, Georgia for several years). While other Reform camps were under the direction of the UAHC, NFTY with its teen contingent had never had its own camping site. Most UAHC camps offered activities for children age 10 or younger until age 15, with young college students in counselor roles. At NFTY’s new site, the campers ranged in age from 15 to 18 and were advised by rabbis. Seminars included National Leadership Training Institutes, National Board Meeting and Training Institute, National Advisers’ Institute and National Hagigah (described in a 1965 advertisement as "13 days of expert teaching and expression of Jewish themes through music, drama, plastic arts, dance, writing.") Isaac Bashevis Singer spent summer 1965 in Warwick with a short-lived college arts program called the Masters-Fellows Institute and was also at camp for NFTY’s Hagigah. "The creative person who was there had the satisfaction of knowing that he was being taken seriously, that he was needed, that people were anxious to see and hear what he had created and what he had to say about his efforts." Yiddish was written and sung: "Strange as it may sound, I noted a greater love for Yiddish at Warwick than at many of the worldly Yiddishist institutions." Musicians in residence that summer were Paul Ben-Haim, Lazar Weiner, Yehudi Wyner, Jack Gottlieb (an assistant to Leonard Bernstein, who visited in a later summer), Herbert Fromm, Charles Davidson, Cantor Ray Smolover, and Alan Rich, music critic of the Herald Tribune.

NFTY also held a 7-week intensive Hebrew and Bible study course for teens called "National Torah Corps", which occurred simultaneously with another Torah Corps at Oconomowoc. The National Torah Corps, under the direction of HUC rabbinic student Dov Taylor, sang in Hebrew (from the Oconomowoc songbook) under the direction of Gerald Brieger and Hank Sawitz, and the campers were able to learn difficult Hebrew songs because of their high Hebrew skill. The Corps sang Birkat HaMazon in the long version -- "something radical at a Reform camp." ‘Hank and Jerry’ as they were called also led American folk and Jewish songs for attendees at the NFTY seminars. After a few years at Kutz, the schedule developed into a summer-long session for teens, and Torah Corps became a part of it.

Songleader Jim Schulman from San Antonio was a classical guitarist and a night club performer with a broad range of styles and a knowledge of Hebrew. Schulman, a charismatic leader, was a master at his craft and an inspiration to many would-be songleaders. He developed a songleading seminar at Kutz in the mid-’60s as part of the National Leadership Institute in the style of a master class -- he and his students would critique a budding songleader’s performance.

A service of an experimental composition called "Hear O Israel: A Sabbath Concert in Jazz" by Jonathan Klein, son of Rabbi Joseph Klein, was commissioned for NFTY’s New England region in 1965 and was issued by NFTY on an album in 1968. It was followed by the creation in 1967 and recording in 1968 of Cantor Raymond Smolover’s "Edge of Freedom", a ‘folk rock’ service with drums, electric instruments and singers "based on nusahI and a sense of the sacred." "He asked the musicians and singers to improvise, to personalize the prayers; that said to me, ‘they must mean something!’" "It had the effect of opening up Jewish music which had been closed to young people’s creative instincts." In addition, camp songleaders were adapting service melodies as best they could to fit an informal setting without organ, choir, or walls.

Simon and Garfunkel were the pop chart heroes of the mid-’60s. At the same time, there was a rise in ethnic pride. "Black Power" became the slogan for one ethnic group, and with Israel’s six-day war recently won, Jewish pride was on the rise.

At Warwick, the National Leadership Training Institute had developed into specific training workshops for songleaders and dance leaders. The Song and Dance Leaders’ Institute (SDLI) often attracted 80 students and was run for the purpose of training teens to be cultural teachers. Cantor William Sharlin was dean of the institute for several years, and Les Bronstein was an instructor (and later, David Nelson). Among the students were Jeff Klepper and Dan Freelander, campers from Eisner. Songleading and dance-leading students would learn a fair amount of each other’s repertoire, then spent most of the day improving their own craft by learning new material, technique and practicum. Student volunteers could help lead the dining hall song sessions.

By the late ‘60s the escalation of the unpopular Vietnam Conflict resulted in what may have been the most drastic differences in the atmosphere of the camps. The Torah Corps component was still an active presence in Warwick and in Oconomowoc. Meanwhile, Swig director Rabbi Joe Glaser’s social action agenda had attracted socially active staff members who trampled the American flag and were "unclean, disrespectful and lewd." The anti-war sentiment resulted in a surge in protest and unity songs.

Perhaps the greatest social change that occurred in the camping movement was in reaction to these major cultural shifts. With the turn of the decade, the American Jewish self-image began to change from that of immigrants’ children trying to blend in, to fully Americanized Jews seeking Jewish empowerment. Whereas in the previous generation our rabbis had told us not to find out too much about the scientific world or else we would assimilate, this generation of young Jews was made up of Americans seeking to express their Judaism in an American way.

"My sister is four years older than I," says Rabbi David Nelson, "and when she came home from camp in the mid-’60s, she was singing ‘Dreamer’, ‘They’re Rioting in Africa’, ‘Wasn’t That a Time’; a lot of save-the-world English folk songs. When I came to camp as a high schooler from 1968-71, I saw a huge changeover to an Israel-centered culture. We began to sing mostly Hebrew songs from the Hiassidic Song Festival in Israel -- ‘Y’varehI’hIa’, ‘Sisu Et Y’rushalayim’, ‘Y’did Nefesh’, ‘Al Sh’losha D’varim’."

On the technology front, Phillips Electronics mass-marketed the Compact Cassette, so anyone could conveniently record, play, and send a song across the country for a few cents. It became much easier for young musicians to play tapes, rewind and pause to figure out which chords to play (rather than find the appropriate groove on a scratchy record), and for songleaders to share repertoire with others across the nation.


Then came the 1970s. After live concerts of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and Joan Baez, the new generation saw that someone close in age to the campers, with a guitar and a microphone on a stage, could inspire crowds of people.

Michael Isaacson, now known for his Jewish compositions and arrangements for cantors, choirs and orchestras, had been a camper at Eisner in the late ‘60s. He took a position as a lifeguard at Eisner in 1968 to escape for the summer from Rochester, where he had been a student at the Eastman School of Music, when young Rabbi Lawrence Kushner urged him to write a new melody to a prayer. "Ma Gadlu" resulted and became quite popular.

Over the next few summers, Isaacson composed new melodies to an entire youth service and several psalms and other verses, and came to Kutz in 1972. He recalls sitting in his bathing suit with an old, beat-up piano in a shack across the field from the main lodge at Kutz, scribbling out a melody line, "and when I couldn’t see anymore because of the sweat in my eyes, I knew I was done." Isaacson recalls writing a song in the morning, teaching it to songleaders before lunch who would adapt it for guitar and teach it after the meal, and by dinner "it was a classic. We’d do the same thing the next day."

Debbie Friedman, who started putting prayers to music in 1971, brought her style "echoing the big sky over a prairie, AM radio, hootenannies (and) highways" reflecting a rural upbringing in Minnesota to the dining hall at Kutz. The Israeli students coming over to America on the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program sponsored by NFTY and HUC-JIR rabbinic students returning from their first year in Israel brought new, "American-sounding" Israeli music with them.

After an amateur tape of popular camp hits had been made in 1970, a few NFTY teens in Warwick got permission to record an "album" for $400 in 1972. They had intended to sell at least 100 copies as a fund-raiser for NFTY’s service projects, which included two major Reform concerns in Israel, "Bricks for Baeck" (Leo Baeck high school in Haifa) and Reform Kibbutz Yahel (which was still on the architect’s board). The band consisted of Jeff Klepper (visiting from Camp Eisner), Loui Dobin, Doug Mishkin, Michael Isaacson, and David Nelson, most of whom have gone on to become Jewish professionals. (The First NFTY Album, as it came to be known, now sells more than 100 copies per year.) It served as a quasi-codification of NFTY music -- music from both outside the camps and now from inside. In addition, now that a NFTY album was out, songleaders in all regions could learn the same repertoire. The NFTY albums never made it as far as Swig, however, until the fourth volume; neither did Swig’s most popular songs make it big on the East Coast until the fifth album. On one side of the album was Isaacson’s Folk Service; on the other side were some songs NFTY sang (from Friedman, Dobin, and from Israel), and "since there was room, we said, ‘well, what else do we know?’" says Nelson. So, onto the album went some songs NFTY should sing. In Texas, Les Bronstein and his songleading followers were singing many of the same songs, as was Debbie Pinto in California. Friedman had just released her first record that year, and recorded an album with songs and campers from Camp Swig in 1974, Tov Lanu LaShir.

Echoing the rise in Jewish ethnic pride, camp music nationwide saw a strong shift in the early ‘70s from what had been 80% brotherhood songs to 95% Hebrew (with "Sabbath Prayer", from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, thrown in on Friday night). From then on, Hebrew language skills were required of NFTY songleaders (although most songleaders’ Hebrew knowledge began and ended with song translations). More emphasis was placed on the correct pronunciation and translation of Hebrew songs. Reflecting the positive attitude toward Israeli culture and thus the desire to sing songs as they were sung in Israel, the pronunciation of Hebrew shifted from the Ashkenazic to the Sephardic dialect, which changed the spelling of "transliterated" words. This shift also took place around this time in most Reform synagogues.

Now that composers were working in the camps that were singing their songs, the issue of ‘being true to the original melody’ arose. Was the music now property of the ‘folk’, i.e., the campers, to be sung in their own style, or was it to be sung as it was recorded or sung by the song writers? It was often difficult to remember each nuance of the composition, and change is a natural part of the folk process. However, some writers are quite deliberate when committing certain notes and rhythms. Since NFTY is a movement more of campers committed to a good sound than of musical integrity, the folk process usually won out. The issue became more about the ego of the composer than about devotion to the songs.

At Harlam in 1972, songleader Merri Lovinger was hired to increase ‘Jewish repertoire’ and the songs met with resistance from campers. "The job was very difficult, but the end result was fine." Lovinger brought her skills to Kutz the following summer, and with Doug Mishkin taught Israeli music. In the ensuing summers, songs in Hebrew written by Americans were incorporated. That year, the Institutes at Kutz were incorporated into a two-semester "NFTY Academy", where campers studied in "courses" with rabbis, could choose songleading as a "major" and choir as an "elective", and the format of the song curriculum changed since hundreds of teens remained at camp for three and a half weeks at a time, and repertoire could be built up over that period.

Songleading had become something of a profession. Those who could successfully lead songs that were popular with NFTY youth were flown around the country and paid the "outrageously" high fee of $60 per weekend. NFTY albums continued to be produced sporadically and after the first album the coordinators (Dobin, Klepper and Freelander) decided that NFTY needed new material besides the "American-sounding" songs from Israel’s Hiassidic Song Festival and songs only Klepper-Freelander and Friedman were writing from an American Jewish perspective (they admittedly borrowed styles and "riffs" from Carole King and other popular radio stars). This was the start of the NFTY Song Competition, an event held annually to encourage people to write new Jewish songs. Each year the contest had a theme, and the winners (and sometimes the runners-up) were recorded on the NFTY albums. "Singability was one of the main criteria, and participation is the trend that has made it into the synagogue, more than the repertoire." People seemed hungry for songs written by their peers. Songs written by members of NFTY over the years that became popular in the youth movement included "The Butterfly" by Lisa Glatzer, "Yom Zeh L’Yisrael" by Lisa Sharlin, "Hine Tov M’od" by Gordon Lustig, "Heveinu" by David Feingold, and "V’eyzehu" by Karen Escovitz. Many entrants began to sound less like Friedman and ‘50s folk and more like popular songs on the radio, serving to ‘keep NFTY current.’

Friedman wrote a number of songs at Swig, and as late 1970s-era songleader Gordon Lustig says, there was a "specialness about them" since they came to be associated with the place. Songleaders who had worked at other NFTY regions came to work at Swig, and brought their regions’ songs with them.

Michael Zeldin took the helm of Camp Swig as the program director in the early ‘70s, and refined the educational goals of the institute. The camp, which had grown to more than 250 campers, was divided into groups by age and theme; a kibbutz simulation was set up for one group. Music found its place in the educational program of the camp by focusing on mostly Hebrew melodies. Rabbi Jim Kaufman visited the camp as a faculty member in the ‘70s, and found the song sessions "serious, heavy-duty, and boring. They were no fun (from a former songleader’s perspective)." However, from the point of view of the songleaders of the time, it was all in a day’s work. "We had fun, what we did was fun, but we took it very seriously," says Jason Gwasdoff, a camper in the ‘70s who became a songleader toward the end of the decade.

By the mid-’70s, counter-culture America was catching wind of the amazing opportunities of retreats and "encounters". The Jewish catalogue was published and suggested singing "L’hia Dodi" to "Scarborough Fair". Joel Grishaver, now of Torah Aura Publications, developed a creative prayerbook with illustrations and comparisons to rock concerts called Shema Is For Real at Oconomowoc. All of the Yiddish songs had disappeared from NFTY, save "Az Ich Vel Zingen", "Shabbes, Shabbes" and "Az Der Rebbe". A songbook from Harlem from this time period reveals songs with transliteration only (no Hebrew characters), no translations, yet a song with all three components on the last page called "Shir Yahel". A Coleman "sing-along" book includes songs with translations, but no Hebrew letters, organized alphabetically and by category. The Swig songbook from the 1970s includes Hebrew, transliteration and translation, but the songs are in no logical order except by name in the table of contents.

The issue which began to take off in the 1970s Jewish camp agenda was the plight of ‘refuseniks’ in the Soviet Union. Marches, demonstrations and visits to politicians’ offices were the focus of social action projects of youth groups and specialized interest groups within camp. One such group at Swig was called "Hievrah", which always took a field trip to nearby metropolitan San Francisco to perform guerrilla theater, speak with political representatives and hold a "freedom service" in a public arena. Even the characters from the evening educational programs in camp had names like Yakabovitch. "Am Yisrael Hiai" became a song of hope for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. The songs about freedom which had been reworked into the mostly Hebrew song repertoire retained the words from the 1960s, yet the people about whom the campers were singing had changed.

At Warwick, the summer academy included a choir under the direction of Rabbi Ramie Arian (a former songleader from the late ‘60s at Eisner) and his wife Merri (formerly Lovinger). The songs rehearsed and performed were taken from Friedman’s albums, Hiassidic Song Festival finalists, and other camp songs from the dining-hall repertoire ("so that the choir rehearsals were like song sessions, only the songs were neater"). Hebrew lyrics to ‘50s rock songs ("Tears on my Pillow", "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do") were written by the Arians and other rabbis. Rabbi Arian became director of the NFTY’s college department and traveled to the West Coast. Having a musical ear, he collected songs he liked from Swig and brought them back to Kutz. Often, songleaders for the summer would pick up tunes sung by the choir or brought from California by Rabbi Arian and incorporate them into summer curriculum.

In the choir, most of the harmonies were adapted from the accompaniment on the albums or were simple echoes of the melody line. The Arians "would scratch out an idea of what we wanted the arrangement to sound like, often late at night a few hours ahead of when we had to teach the choir class." Music was taught by passing out the lyrics on dittoed papers and teaching melodies by rote, yet the choir "accomplished some difficult Hebrew and rhythms."

By the end of the 1970s, teens were attending rock concerts where the audience would show its appreciation not by sitting and singing but by standing and shouting. Taking cues from society, campers began to stand during song sessions. Songleaders from earlier times had difficulty retaining a sense of intimacy and "seeing the people in the back of the room" and got nervous, but teen leaders were more accustomed to seeing a standing crowd.

In order to work with this new custom, a Rube Goldberg-like process ensued. For the back of a large room to hear, as in the case of Swig’s and Eisner’s dining halls seating 500, microphones and public address systems were employed. This changed the mood and length of the songs and song sessions -- microphones separate the leader from the ‘unmiked’ group, restrict movement and give a message of performance, not participation. To overcome the problem this presented, songleaders who were not at the microphone would lead in other parts of the room simultaneously. This limited flexibility and required coordinating the session well in advance and rehearsing, thereby eliminating most spontaneity, and presented problems when songleaders’ styles clashed. Meanwhile, Kutz avoided the problem by keeping numbers low in the dining hall, never using microphones, and thereby maintaining relative intimacy.


Fame (the movie and TV show) came to popular culture in the early 1980s, along with soft rock, Carly Simon and James Taylor. NFTY became more Zionistic as Israel was featured more prominently in camp educational programs, youth group agendas, and fundraising efforts. Reform Kibbutz Yahel, still less than a decade old, helped to create another Reform kibbutz, Lotan. Trips to Israel and programs there for NFTY multiplied to include the College Academic Year, the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, and NFTY Summer Safari. American teens on NFTY programs in Israel began to share songs they had learned in their regions and bring them home.

The 1980s saw rabbinic students fresh from their "first year" in Israel serving as educators and bringing strong Judaic text backgrounds (as well as new Israeli songs). Composer Ben Steinberg said he was inspired to write "Eilu D’varim" while working with campers in Wisconsin. Attempts were still being made to bring accessible Israeli songs to American Jewish teens. Steve Dropkin brought Danny Sanderson’s HaGalshan, an Israeli song about surfing, to NFTY’s attention.

After a seeming lapse in songleader training, the Jewish camping movement in America began to get serious about song leading again. Training courses for songleaders in "the great tradition" were established. Song leading became an art: education through music. Terms and graphs such as the "bell-shaped curve" were drawn on large sheets of butcher paper, charting the song session flow from beginning to end. The Song, Dance and Teachers Aides training program (SDTA) was established at many camps; NFTY Leadership Academy for youth group officers developed a song leading component; and in some years a Songleaders Institute for the development of songleaders from camps around the country was held at the beginning of the summer at Kutz. There was a concern for balance between Hebrew and English songs. Songleading became goal-oriented.

A. New Publications

By the early 1970s, the repertoire of the camps had changed so dramatically from the ‘60s that the "old" Chordsters and songbooks contained little useful material. In the days before computers, word processing software and high-speed photocopying, if a songsheet was to be produced, songs would need to be typed on a Gestetner® master or purple mimeograph master. Because it was extremely time-consuming, song curricula for weekend retreats or a week at camp would need to be carefully planned in advance, since each song required typing in English and Hebrew, mistakes were not easy to correct, and Hebrew vowels had to be drawn in by hand. This limited flexibility, since a homegrown "songbook" with many songs from which to choose was even more difficult to produce.

A movement-wide effort was made to compile the "Songs NFTY Sings" into a comprehensive songbook in celebration of the organization’s fortieth birthday which would include songs sung all over the country in the 21 NFTY regions. It was published in 1980 in an 8 1/2" x 11" booklet with a glossy cardstock cover (different for each region and camp), was edited by Freelander, then Assistant Director of NFTY, and included words to 215 songs and prayers in English and Hebrew, transliteration and translation. About two-thirds of the songs were in Hebrew, and the rest in English had Jewish themes or were popularized at camps. Many camps still use this songbook, along with a supplement which changes from summer to summer, to include songs specific to certain camps and newly composed songs. It was followed in 1981 by a new Chordster, in a 3-ring bright orange plastic binder.

Freelander oversaw the project and attributes its success to the fact that it was the main songbook used in UAHC camps for seven years. At the same time, he ran a series of song leading workshops in 1981, 1983 and 1985, at the beginning of each summer, using the orange Chordster as a curriculum, on how to be a "proper" songleader. Recordings of the Reform youth movement served as source material (in addition to the six NFTY albums, there are tapes and LPs from various camps). In the late 1980s an amateur cassette tape was made of the Chordster and its 1987 supplement of additional songs by three songleaders in one sitting at Kutz Camp, and it made its way among the songleaders of the nation. In 1980 a small and often overlooked book (sales were never impressive) of 21 songs based on liturgy written or popularized by campers in NFTY was published for congregational singing, called Yehi Shir. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman was the force behind its publication, and Freelander coordinated its typesetting. Transcontinental Music Publications, the Reform movement’s music publisher, declined to allocate money for the project, but agreed to catalogue it.

It was as late as 1989 when the first book of "NFTY music" was published by Transcontinental for use among youth and youth professionals. It included 50 songs, in a book called NFTY’s Fifty, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the youth division’s founding. A book of music arranged for two to three voices by Ramie and Merri Arian called NFTY In Harmony was published by Tara Publications. Since then, nearly 50 of the songs in the Chordster which are still popular with youth and which have educational value have been incorporated into a curriculum project of the UAHC and written out in sheet music in a book called Manginot: 201 Songs for Jewish Schools (ed. Stephen Richards. New York, Transcontinental Music Publications and New Jewish Music Press, 1992). Recordings of the songs in Manginot are in progress. A new songbook and Chordster are promised in the near future.

B. The Shabbat Song Session

The music curriculum at Swig and other camps by the 1980s had developed into a veritable science. All week the campers would be taught songs for the big Shabbat song session. The Head Songleader would spend several hours developing the song order, which key it would be played in, transitions and which of the seven or so songleaders would "take the mic" (microphone) at any one time. What evolved was a highly organized, carefully choreographed, firmly scripted event which involved the entire camp staff.

Following is the ‘script’ that developed. Preparation for the Shabbat evening camp-wide program takes most of the week. Songs and dances are taught by instructors to one group at a time, and the music and choreography are rehearsed often.

Songbooks and birkonim [sheets with the Birkat HaMazon] are distributed by a runner at each table. Sometimes a group of campers or staff will perform a choreographed dance in the aisles. Then the songleaders enter. What transpires is something extraordinary. Between the crowded tables, high temperature, and booming P.A. system, an experience is had which seems to connect with something larger than itself. As a Hiassid would put it, a sense of ecstasy is reached where one comes into contact with the eternal spirit. The choreographed shira [song session] takes the campers and staff through a gamut of emotions, compared by Gordon Lustig, songleader in the early 1980s, to "a rock concert order, starting slightly above ‘mellow’ with a peak in the middle and ending low-key."

An example of a Shabbat Shira at Camp Swig (and similarly at other NFTY camps) as it was developed in ‘the great tradition’ follows.

1. Niggun -- relatively slow, wordless tune which serves to include those campers who have not learned words to any other song

2. Ma Yafeh Hayom (M. Zeira) -- helps to maintain a slow, soft mood while incorporating the themes of Shabbat

3. Ki Eshm’ra Shabbat (Yemenite) -- serves to bring in the Sephardic tradition while maintaining the mood

4. L'hIa Dodi (M. Zeira) -- nobody can remember the first summer this was sung, and its simple melody and words help bring traditional liturgy to the session

5. Yom Zeh L'Yisrael (Sharlin) -- written by Lisa, daughter of Cantor William Sharlin, this is a homegrown NFTY song

6. D'ror Yik'ra (Yemenite) -- serves well to bring up the tempo and ‘intensity’

7. Or Zaru’a (Klepper) -- more of a driving beat, but also talks about righteousness

8. Od Yishama (Carlebach) -- this and the next four songs serve as the ‘climax’ of the experience, while never reaching fever pitch (which is saved for the song sessions the rest of the week)

9. HarahIaman (folk)

10. Hashiveinu Hashem (Carlebach)

11. Eileh Hiamda Libi (Carlebach)

12. Lo Yisa Goi (folk)

13. Lo Yisa Goi (slow, folk) -- while using the same words, this version brings the mood and pace down from the peak

14. Gesher Tsar M’od (folk) -- teases the tempo up slightly, and ends slower

15. Dodi Li (Sher) -- a camp perennial, which was also recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary

16. Sabbath Prayer (Bock) -- from "Fiddler on the Roof", it lends an English sentiment to the evening (even campers who do not attend synagogue regularly should recognize this song) and nicely sets the pace for the end of the session

17. Shir Hama’alot (Taubman) -- the first four lines of the introductory psalm for Friday evening Birkat HaMazon, set in an easy melody in a major key

During the last song, all the songleaders come up to the front of the hIadar ohIel to lead Birkat HaMazon beginning with Shir Hama’alot.

The flow of the song session can be charted in the following "bell" graph, with a sampling of songs.

Songbooks are generally ignored as campers rise to their feet, form lines along the aisles, and move to the music, swaying with their arms around each other when the music is slow, jumping and clapping in rhythm when the pace quickens. This is the height of the experience, the moment of "climax", when the campers share an ecstatic moment with hundreds of other Jewish adolescents. In any organized activity where a high level of joy is encouraged, the medium does not necessarily matter. Because the songs being sung are Jewish, a connection is made to the Judaism in the song; perhaps not consciously, but certainly every time the song is sung from then on. The ecstasy, expressed by dancing, clapping, and putting arms around each other, comes without instruction, yet it is surely fed by campers and staff who have experienced it before and take the actions as appropriate behavior. If a camper were to be asked what all the excitement is about, it is unclear if the teen would be able to articulate an answer. A joyful connection with something Jewish is one of the sub-goals of the philosophy at camp -- if kids can love singing in Hebrew, that is, an act of being Jewish, they will take a love of Judaism with them.

Counselors try to watch out for the campers’ safety while also trying to relive that experience they first had as a camper. (The experience sometimes proves overwhelming for some children, and they sit passively at the tables.) As the 30-minute song session draws to a close, counselors are given the cue to seat the campers back around the tables, and the lights are dimmed. Birkat HaMazon is recited from laminated papers, and as the last note is strummed, the camp director approaches the microphone to dismiss campers. Meanwhile, the oldest campers form a line along one edge of the hIadar ohIel and sing a niggun [wordless song] with the names of each session as it is called.

The campers are sent from there to the Ulam [program hall] for rikudei am [Israeli folk dancing] to tapes of Israeli bands played over an amplification system, where again campers are communally charged with Jewish music. The entire camp knows a small repertoire of dances as they are led by the dance specialists. Then, beginning with the youngest session, campers are dismissed one group at a time to get a snack and go to sleep while the other groups remain to dance to other tunes.

C. A Need For Highly Skilled Songleaders

By the 1980s a high standard had been set and a need had been created for a songleader who could shape a music program with all the conditions described heretofore. In previous decades it had been relatively simple to find a teen who would be able to pick up a guitar and be accepted by the campers (since the society knew how to respond to folk singers). But now, America was in an age where a singer with a guitar was foreign to society and unique to the camps. Now it was even more necessary to rely on returning campers and staff to create that type of accepting society, and also more necessary to train songleaders in skills such as how to keep a group’s attention.

By the end of the ‘80s, hard rock had captured the popular mind. No longer were there folk idols other than aging songleaders. NFTY’s album "Fifty Years in the Making" was released in 1989 with synthesizers, drums, and electric guitars filling in the accompaniment. Craig Taubman, a musician who grew up in the Ramah camps, composes and arranges new Jewish songs in Hebrew and English in current American popular music styles. Many of his compositions have been popularized in NFTY camps and regions, such as "Yad B’Yad", "Shir Hama’alot", and "Master of All Things".

There appeared to be a severe drop-off in the number of would-be songleaders. Campers were not as responsive to peers leading them in folk songs. As a result, the role of the songleader was diminished. Camps cut back the amount of singing to one song session a day. Less emphasis was placed on song teaching and more on getting teens to show any sort of positive response. Many of the songleaders who had been trained in the art of songleading had experienced burn-out, had become too busy to spend a summer away or had been unable to keep up with newer Jewish music. As a result, fewer teens were experiencing song sessions with the same goals and outcomes as in previous generations.


Camp was still reeling from the turbulent ‘80s by the time 1990 rolled around. MTV was increasingly popular -- that is, music became a visual experience as well as aural -- and songleaders found themselves "competing with Madonna." Music composed primarily for group singing was not part of the current popular music scene. It was the escalation of the "me" generation. Gone were the days when an innocent I. B. Singer would forsee people "performing less physical work and enjoying more leisure (and when) culture will become the very air that man will breathe." The innocence of the previous generations when people believed whole-heartedly that songs could change the world has dissipated. The same camps which inspired adults to take action against the Cold War were relatively ineffective at effecting change in Bosnia. Instant information has sped up life and overloads the senses. Veteran folk songleader Loui Dobin notes that one could "only be noticed (these days) if you stand out from crowd as a recognized genius with a good agent or if you’re outrageous." It becomes more difficult to wed American pop culture with Judaism. Children are raised with instant communication, E-mail and personal computers in the schools.

In response to an overstimulated young population, anti-rock folk has begun again. Tracey Chapman, Indigo Girls, and James Taylor (still at it) provide a calmer approach to pop music. Peter, Paul & Mary tour again, and everyone "unplugs" from MTV. Debbie Friedman becomes a hot item in the Jewish concert market. "Hava Nashira", a songleader training institute attracting as many as 80 students from camps all over the U.S., convenes yearly at Oconomowoc. We are perhaps witnessing the rebirth of the quality songleader; with an intent and a sense of responsibility for what is sung with Reform youth. But is it still grass-roots? Is this good or bad? The answer is, of course, subjective.

Some of the songleaders and composers whose melodies to ancient texts were popularized in the camp movement have become professional musicians, "on the road" promoting the Jewish sing-along. Rabbi Daniel Freelander and Cantor Jeff Klepper, who together make up the "band" Kol B’Seder (which puns the Hebrew expression "everything’s okay" with "a fine sound") are employed to inspire Jewish gatherings with their songs, many of which became popular in the folk tradition in camps. Debbie Friedman has released her thirteenth album of original Jewish music and commands a sizable sum for her appearances. In January 1996 she performed at Carnegie Hall, a feat which until recently would not be considered possible for a non-Orthodox Jewish artist.

At the same time, the "oral tradition" of songleader training has become movement-directed in some ways. Since 1993, before the summer camping season begins, Reform songleaders from camps, regions and synagogues all over the country have gathered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin to learn from Kol B’Seder, Debbie Friedman, and each other new songs and techniques at the "Hava Nashira" songleader workshops. Workshops led by current songleaders continue at Swig during its "Machon" leadership camping session, and at Warwick during the academies (see Appendix A: A Songleaders’ Institute Curriculum, page 16). Seeing songleaders-in-training lead a group of teens helps those being led feel empowered, and the songleading "tradition" is perpetuated.


When looking back upon the "golden age of creative music" in the youth movement, we see people like Jeff Klepper, Debbie Friedman and Michael Isaacson, who wrote music we continue to sing, who continue to write enchanting songs, and provide a spirit that sings through us. One might ask: where are the new creative liturgists, the Debbie Friedmans of today? In order to answer, one must ask ‘the question before’: where did the Debbie Friedmans of then come from? Several answers appear. The environment of the late 1960s - early 1970s in American society encouraged singer-songwriters. Motivated adolescents felt empowered to become a part of the creative musical process. Insightful rabbis brought meaningful texts to musically creative young Jews. Talented teens found the courage to sing their own music in a style that brought the text alive for their peers, who were accepting of their efforts. Those at the "top" of youth administration encouraged the active nurturing and recording of new, original music.

If we take this process and its effects as positive and desirable, is it then possible to discover new Debbie Friedmans in the youth movement who have talent to give to today’s Jewish community? Or, as Freelander says, will it take another ten years before we see the effects of their efforts? One might say that it was much easier to wed American pop culture to Judaism in that particular time period since the songwriting style accepted by American teens and the songleading style of the camps were already quite similar. Any attempts to accomplish a similar sound today would be an imitation of Jewish folk music or campfire favorites, not of current American folk culture (if any can be defined as such). One might also say that it will take talented teens who are Jewishly motivated. In any case, if young people with talent feel empowered, if learned Jews bring them inspiring texts, and if those in authority nurture the development of new, original music -- that is, if the "meta-message" is consistent with what is verbally expressed -- we might ensure the creative process. Already, this generation has seen the rise of original Jewish "folk" writers Julie Silver (who writes "Carol King-influenced, thoughtful ‘60s- and ‘70s-type music"), Mark Bloom and several students currently attending HUC in New York.

Original songs that were widely sung by campers were not always met with positive views from educators. Some would question the matching of the lyrics to particular styles of music, the use of incomplete verses, and the incorporation of nonsense syllables. Many songs which won competitions or were products of NFTY programs were quite popular among youth, yet seemed void of authenticity, integrity or substance.

Then, what is to be done about the music programs in the youth movements -- what improvements and strength can be added? A music program run by teens alone obviously cannot be as comprehensive as one with input from musicians, cantors, and others outside the youth world. NFTY has a proud heritage of home-grown songs. Some of these musical pieces tell beautiful stories, bring texts to life, and bring scripture down to a level within youth’s reach. However, a diet of songs only sung in the Reform camps may not be healthy. A concern of Doug Mishkin, former NFTY songleader and "style" teacher, and others is the extent to which the movement prepares high schoolers with survival tools for the Jewish world in America. When graduates of NFTY go to a Hillel event on a college campus, for instance, they may not know the songs sung at a Friday night dinner, even if the leaders attempt to make them "inclusive".

A unique opportunity exists in a camp setting where singing is mandated for a few hours a day, and much can and should be taught in this time. "Music should be used as part of the curriculum, not just for ‘feel-good’ melodies we sing after a meal." More cantors as well as rabbis are being incorporated into the camp program at a growing number of facilities in the ‘90s, and classes in the heritage of Jewish music can enrich campers’ experiences. Given many cantors’ ability to relate well to youth, full advantage of the chance to demonstrate and pass on a love for a broad scope of Jewish music should be taken (see Appendix B: A Jewish Musical Heritage Unit, page 23). This can help better prepare Jewish youth for Jewish life in college and in the synagogue.



Meanwhile, not much importance has traditionally been placed on youth music in the synagogue and religious school. To begin with, the traditional model of the Reform "Sunday School" teacher is fraught with problems. Volunteers without much training in education or Judaism are given the responsibility of teaching Jewish children. The students often emerge with a shallow Jewish literacy and a disdain for the whole experience. Dr. Samuel Adler, who has edited several volumes of music for the Reform movement, said that the religious school music teachers "sing lousy pieces which the children thankfully forget later on." Similarly, no professional training is offered for music teachers in the schools, if there is a music teacher at all. Music for children’s choir usually consists of simple tunes arranged in English for unison or two-part children’s chorus. Begun as "an adaptation from the practices of our neighbors" (i.e., children’s choirs in churches), it is an attempt to work toward becoming "a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People." High school youth is not offered much Jewish choir experience.

Songleaders who received experience in the NFTY movement have often found success in the religious school. Many of the educational goals of Jewish supplemental schools are similar to those of the UAHC camps. While the camp environment obviously cannot be recreated in the classroom, many of the techniques and much of the repertoire are transferable. More specific songs for holidays and educational units have been written by Friedman and Klepper (some of which were incorporated back into the camp repertoire, such as "Shavua Tov") and a collection of songs which match objectives in the religious school curriculum "To See The World Through Jewish Eyes" developed by the Education Department of the UAHC can be found in Manginot.



This generation has seen the tremendous impact the participatory style of the camping movement has had on music in the synagogue. Synagogues tend to be "10-15 years behind the camps as far as change. Whatever was a trend in the camps, it takes a generation to find its way into the synagogue." The chanting of prayers and scriptural readings serve as an example -- before the youth began chanting the Hiatzi Kaddish in the camps, it was not customary to find this practice on the bimah of Reform congregations. Reciting from the Union Prayer Book, the Reform siddur when the camps began, did not lend itself to outdoor worship without much physical or authoritative structure (i.e., the person leading the service did not ‘dress the part’ of a rabbi or cantor), so "creative liturgy" was instituted. A look at the UAHC’s most recent revisions of "Gates of Prayer" shows services that can easily be led outside the formal synagogue structure, and the Reform camping movement is at least partially responsible for them.

In 1988 Rabbi Hoffman (then dean of the School of Sacred Music) employed Merri Arian to teach songs for youth to cantorial students at HUC in New York. While at first she met with resistance from the students, her courses have increased in number to include "working with volunteer choirs" and "beginning guitar". The emphasis the school has placed on teaching the skill of working with young singers is a clear indication that HUC takes this role to be vital to the cantorate.

Cantor Richard Botton, director of placement for the Joint Cantorial Placement Commission (JCPC), says that in his opinion and many other cantors’, Debbie Friedman has found a way to write a creative liturgy for healing, and people seem to need that. He also believes that guitar-playing is a necessary skill for a cantor to have. However, he claims that cantors should not rely on "feel-good music" alone, and that unless a balance between Jewish American folk and hIazzanut [cantorial chant] is maintained, people will be oversaturated with empty tunes which lack the ability to move their souls and will leave after a few years. Most congregations are no longer commissioning Jewish composers to write sacred works for choirs and organs or orchestras.

Yet the fears of some have not come true. Jeffrey K. Salkin reports in the Journal of Reform Judaism, Fall 1989:

With exceptions, congregations that have incorporated NFTY musical styles have not dispensed with either traditional chazanut or art music. In fact, there is more traditional Jewish chanting in our synagogues today than there was ten years ago. More significantly, many congregations have adapted NFTY-style melodies to their own aesthetic contexts. The new publication Shaarei Shira affirms the musical openness of Reform Judaism.

Indeed, in truly expressing ourselves as adults who are American Jews, we are tempted to use "American" music as a reference point. As Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman writes: "America has given us jazz, the people-music of Black spirituals, and Pete Seeger’s folk idiom. We’ve been raised on the folk guitar, not the organ." Even the architecture of many synagogue buildings has begun to provide for flexible seating arrangements and bimah placement, and the incorporation of nature (e.g., skylights, picture windows) into the worship space. More cantors are incorporating the use of guitar into the balance of musical leadership. The "gap" between the worship style of camps and synagogues is shrinking.


Current trends in Jewish thought tell us that the struggle for a Jewish ethnicity, a Jewish culture combating antisemitism and based on European memories will not carry the Jewish people into the next century. Since the synagogue is still the "home" of Jewish communal life, what is needed is a synagogue system based on spiritual foundations rather than corporate ones. Spirituality should not only be defined as "deep feelings of awe and fascination," as Leo Baeck would put it, but as a moving experience which helps the individual to heal -- heal one’s relationship with God, heal the brokenness in the immediate world and heal oneself.

Since the early 1990s, spirituality kallot and healing retreats have provided opportunities for Jewish adults to strengthen their Jewish knowledge and helped them to feel greater connections to Judaism. Much of what occurs during these retreats resembles youth conclaves and summer camps. Even the music at some UAHC kallot has been provided by Klepper and Friedman. The "new American Jewish nusahI" that helped people connect to Judaism as teens is helping to bring them closer to Judaism as adults. Many movements that have come to this realization may wish to gather to share repertoire, techniques and create more of this nusahI.

Surveys show that trips to Israel, b’nei mitzvah, and involvement in Jewish youth activities are among the most effective tools for ensuring Jewish continuity. The continued success and positive effects of NFTY activities, though membership fluctuates, has shown that the program is valid. Leaders of the camping movement are expanding facilities and programming. Music, since it plays an integral role in NFTY programming, will most likely continue to be played and sung. If more emphasis is to be placed on education, affection for Judaism and connection to the Jewish people through the medium of music, then the leaders of this music must be given the skills to help accomplish those goals.

Those with good songleading skills -- including (and especially) formally invested cantors -- must be given the maximum amount of opportunity to lead music on family retreats, with young members of the congregation, in the religious school and in camps. If cantors, camp directors and youth advisors seek out talented Jews and give them opportunities to build skills, repertoire and experience, future generations can benefit from effective songleaders and further actualize the potential of education through music -- songs that invite participation, spiritual relationships, greater Jewish awareness and connection to the text.







(Everything you need to know -- NOT)


Spark -- Flow -- Energy -- Be Heard -- Enthusiasm -- "ON" -- Have Fun -- Be Yourself -- Enunciate -- You are Not Alone -- Give Direction -- Eye Contact -- Practice -- Be Prepared.

Spark = that something special which lights up your eyes, face, voice, and the room.

Flow = a Taoist state where the people become the thing; i.e. you and the crowd are swept away by song; also, smooth transitions, and ignoring minor mistakes/acknowledging major ones and continuing.

Energy = the passion you portray through the music; also the thing you want to maintain during a song session / worship experience.

Be Heard = to the back of the room and back!

Enthusiasm = show you care about the song. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm!

"ON" = you need to be able to guide people at every moment; no "time off".

Have Fun = otherwise, how will they? Be Yourself = let your inner beauty shine through. Be at one with the group.

Enunciate = people need to hear words, directions, facts.

You are Not Alone = everyone is right there with you, in the palm of your hand! (At least we like to think positively that way.)

Give Direction = tell people when to sing, how loud, how fast, where you are in the song or teach, how much energy.

Eye Contact = the best way to communicate silently while playing and singing; look them in the eye with confidence; read the group.

Practice = know the song, the chords, the words, how you're going to teach it, swift chord changes, smooth transitions.

Be Prepared = for rain, for fires, for chaos, for low response, for broken strings/lost picks.

Why songlead?

Union, Education, Release, Mood set, Enthuse, Keep Jewish...

I. Role and Responsibility of a NFTY Songleader

A. Knowing where songs fit

Plan a session based on a long-term goal: the overall flow of the session, the songs you want taught by the end of the retreat, and the songs which they already know. Keep a record of what you've taught and sung; find out what was done before and don't sing the same song more than necessary (don't wear it out).

1. Shabbat (See "Shaping the Mood")

a. Liturgy

b. Songs which fit a Shabbat mood

A good guideline is to see if any of the words in the song are "Shabbat". Also, look at the mood of the event. For Kabbalat Shabbat, don't sing "Az Ich Vel Zingen: Chiri Biri Bam".

2. Weekday (See "Shaping the Mood")

a. Songs in which the text matches the mood

Does the mood of the song echo the words Ask yourself if the mood you're trying to bring across is facilitated by both the words and music.

b. Shtick

Shtick is funny songs, light stuff with no real educational value and additions such as hand motions or "shoo-be-doo-wop-doo-wop". It works to break the ice for older kids and keeps younger kids' attention. Shtick does not mean teaching "Nutter Butter Peanut Butter" to go along with "Not By Might". A brief list of shticky songs:

David Melech YisraelNot By Might Heiveinu (Feingold)

Shalom Chaverim Chiri Biri Bam Ya la clap snap

Bashana Haba'ah Uf'ros AleinuBim Bam Shabbat Shalom

Hei Artzeinu Lo Yisa Goi (fast)Hashiveinu

Tree of Life Im Tirzu Hinei Rakevet

Yesh Shir Mitzvah Goreret Ufaratzta

3. T'fillah (See T'fillah section in Hamakor)

Ask for an outline from the organizers enough in advance. Don't sing all the same songs/melodies every time.

a. Sing mood setting songs

b. Traditional vs. Modern songs (check w/ leader)

c. Liturgy (time of day, week, year)

d. Seder T'fillah (order of prayers)

e. Hamotzi and Birkat Hamazon

The abbreviated version of NFTY's Birkat Hamazon (never say just "Birkat") is different from other camps and synagogues. Whichever version you agree to use, learn it well and always set a good e ample.

B. Knowing a song's source

1. Knowing the source of the text

Best way: Look at the NFTY Chordster (90% accuracy). If one is not handy or you're teaching a song which is not in there (and there's no rabbi or other songleader around), look at the song's words and content.

2. Knowing where the music comes from

Best way: Chordster. Most melodies are not that old most are no older than the 18th century. The importance of knowing the music's source lies in: a) giving a connection to the song (it was written by a friend of mine/songleader at Camp Eisner), b) providing an even rotation of composers' tunes, c) for reference (let's do Debbie Friedman's Ani Ma'amin), d) so you can do a Yemenite folk tune during a program on Sephardic Jews, e) if you wanted to record a song and sell it and need the rights...

3. A little bit about the composers (See Yehi Shir)

Following is a list of composers and their most familiar NFTY songs:

MICHAEL ISAACSON:Mah Gadlu, La La V'ahavta, Let Us Adore, N'kadeish, B'makom

DEBBIE FRIEDMAN:Brachot L'Havdalah, Not By Might, Im Tirzu, Sh'ma, And Thou Shalt Love, Oseh Shalom, Im Ein Ani Li Mi Li, Ani Ma'amin, Mi Chamocha...

KLEPPER/FREELANDER:Modeh Ani, Or Zarua, Shalom Rav, Oseh Shalom, Adonai Oz, This Is Very Good, Yism'chu, Tov L'hodot, Kosher, HaPoreis Sukkat Shalom...

C. Hebrew Ability/Knowing the translation of the song

1. Aids in teaching Hebrew

Concentrate on one simple word in the song for younger kids; more words for Academy Participants i.e. when teaching "Hinei Mah Tov", make sure they know the word TOV. When you know the translation, teaching "Hineh Tov M'od" can be O so much more fun.

2. Can tell you where the song came from

3. Tells you the song's themes

4. Gives a connection something we can grasp

D. Guitar Skills

1. To use or not to use

Learning to songlead without a guitar can be the most valuable skill. You may be called upon to lead, and they don't want the guitar or you don't have access to one. Use all your leadership skills you learned in Academy.

2. Using the guitar as a tool, not a crutch

A guitar should be used for enhancing the song and keeping the rhythm, but don't rely too heavily on it. You don't have to be the world's most talented musician to be a good songleader.

3. Using the guitar to enhance the song

In choirs, for performance, right before lights out, it's great to do funky pinky tricks or whatever. For teaching a song, use the guitar just for keeping the beat. If you miss a chord, don't let it hinder you.

a. Playing softly, sometimes without singing

During stories, personal meditations, creative dances...

b. Using keys to your best advantage

In the morning, our voices aren't really warm yet, so keys should be relatively low (i.e. Modeh Ani in D, not G). In the evening, higher. You can shape the mood of a song session by choosing keys and using capos lower for a quieter mood...

4. Team Leading

Tune beforehand, practice who leads what and in what key/capo, take turns or BE RIGHT TOGETHER! Leave problems outside the group.

E. Song Repertoire

1. Importance of setting and following a repertoire

See "Shaping the Mood".

2. T'fillah songs

See list with songs marked "yes" under T'fillah in article.

3. Weekday songs (list)

4. Shabbat songs (list)

5. Holiday songs

Use all your resources. Look at sources, also holiday songbooks.

6. Thematic/Israel's songs

BRIEF LIST: Zum Gali Gali, Hei Artzenu, Lo Yisa Goi, Oseh Shalom (Hirsh), Hineh Ma Tov (folk), Ufaratzta, Am Yisrael Chai, Im Tirzu, Hatikvah, Ani V'ata, Bashana Haba'ah, David Melech Yisrael, Gesher Tzar M'od, Od Yishama, Sisu Et Yerushalayim, Tzena

7. Campfire/Friendship Circle/Before Lights Out

a. Benefits of using Jewish songs

Hey, it's a Jewish camp or event -- any chance we get it's great to sing any weekday or Israel song which fits the mood, especially Finjan. Feel free to use American songs with a theme which echoes Jewish values. At free time, jam to American rock.

b. When to totally shtick

When we've sung enough Hebrew stuff to where it's coming out the ears already, throw some shtick in. Or while the marshmallows are roasting. Or on a campout. You could also sing some Jewish authors' shticky (light) songs.

8. Rounds/splitting up the group

Depending on the age and your time restrictions, it may take a while but rounds are fun and beautiful. Group splits don't have to be exactly equal cut off a section with your hands and be directive.

9. Dance songs

For example, Od Yishama/Hevenu Shalom Aleichem/Tzena (Hora); Ma Navu; Tzadik Katamar; Yoya; Od Lo Ahavti Dai; Hineh Mah Tov; Zemer Atik.

10. Flexibility

There should be enough songs in your repertoire and on your song planner (under "possible extras if time") to be able to pull another few out of your hat. For example:

a. When the next activity isn't fully ready

b. When the kids are hyped and need another up song (or mellow song)

c. When the camp is burning down

d. When the slides jam

e. When the Torah needs to be redressed


F. Teaching a song / Leading a song

All of the following are probably best learned by observation and experience.

1. Group shape

Semicircle, Circle, Rows, Clump, Around tables, Standing...

2. Reading the group

Are they tired Bored Into it Do they need a break Can they learn more Are the RAs helping to create a friendly environment

3. Techniques of the teach

NOTE: There is no "one way" to teach a song. PRACTICE teaching a song the way you're going to teach it; learn all about it and teach it the best way for the song and you. Get the RAs (or those in authority) to encourage participants to participate.

a. Break the song into parts (line by line, etc.)

b. Teaching the melody

1) the "SWIS" or "RAM" method (sing what I sing, repeat after me)

a) "Go back to..." repeat a part of the song until they get it

b) Point out the melody with your hands

c) Sing the words quickly before they sing

2) the "join in when you can" method

3) teach the melody (la la) as a nigun

4) teach half one song session, half another

5) combos of the above; not too fast or slow

6) keep the beat going while you teach

7) use your academy leadership skills!

8) have the group identify various parts of the song and they learn without realizing

c. Teaching the words

1) Songbooks

Good for camps, old songs, retreat weekends. Benefit: it's in their hands. Loss: Little kids get lost.

2) Posters -- gets the crowd looking up

3) Handouts -- make sure all the words are there; at least Hebrew and perhaps a translation

4) SWIS, RAM -- difficult to reinforce

d. Reinforcement

1) Review songs later

a) after a few familiar songs

b) at the next song session

2) Complement the group (say, "Good!")

3) Work them hard -- go over stuff 'til they know it

4) Say the words before they sing it

4. Mood set

a. Prayer leading (see T'fillah section in HaMakor)

It is not a song session. Set the mood and encourage kavannah (intent, reverence). You are the cantor and surrogate rabbi. Pick appropriate music, keep a proper balance of NFTY and "traditional" songs, and know what kind of atmosphere you want to create.

b. Song session leading

Take them up with intense, fast songs, down with slower, lower. For morning activities, hyper songs may be necessary to wake 'em up. Evening can be more versatile.

c. Dance leading

Be your own judge -- would a dance befit the mood?

5. Patterns of song session flow

For example, the bell-shaped curve; the inverted bell-shaped curve, the "dead reawakened"; the "out-of-control mellowed".

a. Strategic placement of "the teach!"

Sandwich it between familiar or review songs for good results. If you only have time to do three songs and need to teach two, what would you do

b. Keeping the group alert (the world needs lerts)

Follow their mood. Keep it active. Keep your own mood up (the participants are your best mirror and enthusiasm is contagious!). Wake 'em up if they're dead or not paying attention.

6. Leadership techniques / Controlling the group

a. Raising hand for quiet

b. Good posture

c. Eye contact

d. Projection

e. Smiling, giving strokes

f. Singing quieter so they'll listen

g. Giving precise, clear, enunciated instructions

h. Preparation plan in advance, write it down, practice, coordinate, let people know

i. Backup have extra picks, strings, and/or guitars handy

j. Letting go

k. Other skills you picked up at NFTY Leadership Academy!

G. Leading by example

1. Songleading as a way to teach concepts

Look at the translation of the song; certain songs can teach ideas through the nature of the song. A sample list: Creation=Hinei Tov M'od, Yotzer Song; Love=Ani Ohev Otach, V'ahavta, anything from Song of Songs (Dodi Li, Kumi Lach, Dodi Tzach V'adom, Ma Dodeich); Mitzvot=Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah, Al Sh'losha D'varim, Eilu D'varim; Torah=Etz Chayim Hi, Dundai, Al Sh'losha D'varim, Torat Chayim

2. Continuing a strong tradition of Jewish Music

When camp songleading started in the '60s, we sang mostly English folksongs, English songs for social action and songs of Israeli Chalutzim. The change in favor of a more positive view of Israel came after the 6-day war and paralleled a change in Reform synagogues from Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew to Sephardic. NFTY, interested in building a strong educational music program, has, over the years, incorporated traditional Jewish music into its curriculum (along with the birth of the Klepper-Freelander-Friedman modern Hebrew songs in the '70s), thereby transforming camp musicians into lay cantors. Hence, the importance of knowing about these songs has grown. (Read more in the "Where Have All..." article.)

3. Fulfilling God's commandment to "Teach them diligently unto thy children"

 It's a mitzvah.


II. Musicianship

A. The musical staff -- reading it (see packet: "The Great Staff")

1. Pitch, duration, tempo, volume...

2. How to translate that into guitar chords

Usually, the guitar chords are written above the staff. Otherwise, take the root of the chord, listen for the sound for major or minor, and play it.

B. Vocal skill

1. Projection

Find your diaphragm (it goes in and out when you pant after vigorous exercise) and sing, pushing from this. The sound should be as if it's bouncing off of your top front teeth or through the upper part of your face without sounding nasal.

2. Breath Control

Breathe using your diaphragm to push and let out your breath continuously without using your throat to constrict the air.

3. Getting a good sound

Open in the back of the throat, enunciate, don't shout, open your mouth at least three fingers wide.

4. Enunciation

Let the vowels carry the notes on your voice and let the consonants bounce off the tongue, teeth and lips.

5. Keeping it in check

Begin or keep up with voice lessons.

C. Guitar skill

1. Tuning

a. Tune to a piano or to the other strings. If you're playing with other songleaders, make sure all tune the same way.

b. Have a friend tune your guitar.

c. Use an electric tuner.

d. Compare your strings to someone else's which is already in tune.

2. Chords

Practice, practice, practice. Learn from books, sheets, from friends, from watching. Make sure all strings can be clearly heard.

3. Strums

Keep the right wrist moving at all times. The best way to strum is to use the one you're most comfortable with and one which fits the mood of the song. Learn by observation, ear, and practice.

4. Chord Changes

Practice changing from chord to chord -- from C to G, from Am to Dm, etc. Sit down with a Chordster and a song you need to work on and practice until you're comfortable with the chord changes.

D. Reading the NFTY Chordster

Use the index. The chord names are written above the part of the word where the chord change comes. Most songs are arranged alphabetically. In the Chordster supplement, use the index first when looking for a song.


III. Songleading out of camp and your region

A. As an evening's entertainment

1. Familiar songs

Think of songs you grew up with in religious school. Example: Hatikvah, David Melech Yisrael, Sisu Et Yerushalayim, Tzena, Bashana Haba'ah, Hava Nagila, Oseh Shalom, Bim Bom. If you're doing a sisterhood or 40+ crowd, they love Oifn Pripochek, Tumbalalaika, Yiddish stuff and older stuff.

2. Appropriate dress

You need to command respect. If it's in a bar, anything's (!) okay. If it's a gala event or honor dinner, be conservative.

3. Salary

Thank-you lunches can get you $50-$100 for an hour's entertainment (sometimes it's less time) and you get a free meal. Sisterhood fashion shows sometimes go for $150 a lunch. Ask what you feel comfortable asking.

B. As a weekend retreat songleader

1. Differences from camp

a. You're only there three days

b. You can't assume everyone knows camp songs

c. Friday night song session won't last long if ya don't teach something

d. There are more opportunities to focus intensely on thematic songs

e. You have many more song sessions close together

f. You may have to make your own songbook. The cut-and-paste method works well. So does entering a whole bunch onto the computer, then mixing and matching (don’t spend too much time on it, but make it look neat!)

2. Advantages

a. It's a favorable asset for work experience

b. It's not a longterm commitment

c. It's a great social opportunity

d. It's great for NETWORKING!

3. Salary

First weekend as a songleader without cabin responsibilities: $75 easy. If you participate in, say, a regional weekend and provide music for them, they might give you 1/2 price tuition. Going rate as of June '92 was $150 in Northern California, $200 $250 in L.A., and $300+ in New York. Tax free.

C. As a religious school music teacher

1. Repertoire

A lot can be learned from other synagogue musicians in the shul or your community. Good resources are Tara Publications, Transcontinental Music Publications, Jewish bookstores, etc. A good base book is "Manginot" ($49.95 from Transcontinental), which includes sheet music and guitar chords for "201 Songs for Jewish Schools", and Cindy Paley's Holiday series of tapes and books (in most Jewish bookstores). Consult with the director of education at your institution for curriculum and song session content.

2. Responsibility

It's a job which commands respect but demands determination, responsibility, and maturity.

3. Choir leading

You may want (or be asked) to lead a junior choir. Debbie Friedman says kids can learn anything given enough time and patience. Difficult music can be used if you have the time. Familiar, simple tunes may lend themselves well to harmonies. See "NFTY In Harmony" (Tara Publications).

4. Salary

Expect $15-$20 per hour as a high school-aged music teacher; $25-$30 college student working as a part-time music specialist teaching more than once a week. Smaller congregations may not be able to pay that much. Figure the time spent preparing lessons and practicing and don't be cheated below minimum wage, even at your home congregation (do I sound like I’m speaking from experience). You are serving as the school’s cantor.

D. Weddings, B'nei Mitzvah, Bris...

1. Repertoire

Look for songs from wedding liturgy (Dodi Li, Erev Shel Shoshanim, Od Yishama), inspiring B. Mitzvah songs (And the Youth Shall See Visions, Fixin' the World, May God Inspire You), and celebration-type songs (Shehecheyanu, Siman Tov U'mazal Tov) and put them in your repertoire.

2. Composure

People look for serious professionals for these serious occasions. Present yourself well. Use a guitar without an "Indigo Girls" sticker on it. Wear something nice.

3. Flexibility

Sometimes things are overlooked or underorganized at these functions. Earn g'mishoot (flexibility) points by going with the flow if they want you to play after and not before, no big deal.

4. Salary

As the wealth of the host varies, so does the payment of the musician. Sometimes, for friends, the parents of the B. Mitzvah will give a token of appreciation; the father of the bride will pay for a plane ticket; the father of the "brisee" will invite you to dine at the reception. Payment is totally up to the family in charge, but they must understand that we musicians must keep those phone bills paid. Depending on your busyness, and how much the event is worth to you, ask yourself if saying "no" will be better than saying "yes".

RESOURCES: See the section in HaMakor at the end of Jewish Arts.

The preceding course materials were compiled by Wally Schachet-Briskin in June, 1993, for the purpose of distribution to the Songleader Workshop at NFTY Leadership Academy. Please take these ideas and add your own, teach others to songlead, and pass it on -- the future of Jewish education is in your hands... GOOD LUCK!



Following is a basic list, which I used to lead an arts program at UAHC Camp Swig Summer 1995, for four hours a day for two weeks. I gave the participants each a folder with songs in sheet music taken from various sources. We learned, or made reference to by singing or playing a recording, these songs which in my opinion should be in every Jewish person’s repertoire. All have reached the status of "classic", either in the very real sense of being recorded by numerous artists and loved by crowds, or by containing such love for Judaism and encouragement for the Jewish spirit that they should be.


1. Harabi Tziva Lismoach - Folk

2. Nigun - Belz

3. Sher - Nigun

4. Zemer Hasidi - Folk


5. Mah Tovu - Klepper

6. Birkot HaShachar - Spiro

7. La-asok B’Div-rei Torah - Klepper

8. V’taher Libeinu - Carlebach

9. Mi Chamocha - Binder

10. Mi Chamocha - Silverman

11. Avot with Imahot - Weekday

12. Avot with Imahot - Shabbat

13. V’ha-eir Eineinu - Carlebach

14. Ki L’Kach Tov & Hashiveinu - Trad.

15. Sim Shalom - Silverman

16. Shalom Rav - Klepper

17. Shalom Rav - Steinberg

18. Aleinu - Sharlin

19. Bayom Hahu - Gordon

20. Intro to Kiddush - Trad.

21. Birkat HaMazon - Nathanson/Helfman

22. Yigdal - Trad.


23. Agada

24. Al HaNissim - Frimer

25. Al Kol Eileh - Shemer

26. Al Tira - Zeira

27. Anashim Tovim - Shemer

28. Ani Ma’amin - Fastag

29. Ani Ma’amin (Sach’ki) - Tchernikovsky

30. Hevenu Shalom - Folk

31. Artsa Alinu - Folk

32. Balalaika - K. Oshrat

33. Bashana Haba’ah - Hirsh

34. Chai - Manor

35. Chorshat Ha-eikaliptus - Shemer

36. Dodi Li - Chen

37. Dona Dona - Secunda

38. Dugit - Folk

39. Eili, Eili/T’filah (choral arr.) - Zahavi

40. Eretz, Eretz - Paikov

41. Finjan - Folk

42. Ha-ir B’afor - Shemer

43. Halleluyah - Oshrat

44. Hana’ava BaBanot - Neeman

45. Hashiveinu - Hassidic

46. Hatov- Bostoner

47a. Hey, Daroma! - Noy

47b. Hin’ni Muchan Um’zuman

48. Hineh Mah Tov (Hassidic)

49. Hora - Toledano

50. Horeini Hashem - Begun

51. Iti Mi-L’vanon - Chen

52. Ki Hem Chayeinu

53. Ki MiTzion - Shahar

54. Kinneret (Sham Harei Golan) - Shemer

55. Ko Amar - Calek

56. Kol Ha’olam Kulo - Chait

57. Kum V’hit-halech Ba’Aretz - Klinger

58. Kuma Echa

59. Lu Y’hi - Shemer

60. Ma Avareich - Rosenblum

61. Machar - Shemer

62. Mi Ha-Ish - Chait

63. Nolad’ti LaShalom - Chitman

64. Shabbat HaMalka - Minkowsky

65. Shalom Al Yisrael - Netzer

66. Shalom Aleichem - Brazil

67. Sharm-a-Sheich - Gabai

68. Shibolet Basadeh - Shelem

69. Shir Ha’Emek - Samburski

70. Shir LaShalom - Rosenblum

71. Shiri Li Kinneret - Feldman

72. Shiro Shel Aba (Yibane) - Shemer

73. Shoshana Shoshana - Cheffer

74. Todah - Kviomandizis

75. Utzu Eitza

76. Vayiven Uziahu - Zeira

77. V’ulai - Sharet

78. Vihudah L’olam Teishev

79. V’shuv Itchem - Hirsh

80. Yatsanu At - Zehavi

81. Y’did Nefesh - Zweig

82. Y’varech’cha - Weinkranz

83. Yih’yeh Tov - Broza

84. Yisrael V’oraita

85. Yom Zeh L’Yisrael

86. Yasis Alayich - Shenker

87. Y’rushalayim Shel Zahav - Shemer

88. Zamar Noded - Shemer


89. Achshav

90. Chanan V’Aliza

91. Chiri Bim

92. Hineh Ma Tov (Repeat)

93. Hineh Rakevet

94. LaKova Sheli

95. Shabbat Shalom (Bim Bom) - Frankel

96. Shabbat Shalom (Um’vorach)

97. Shalom Chaverim

98. Simi Yadeich

99. Uga, Uga

100. Yesh Lanu Tayish

101. Y’mina, S’mola


102. Adonai, Adonai - Sher

103. All the World - Binder

104. Aseh L’cha Rav - Schachet-Briskin

105. Colossus - Helfman

106. Down By the Riverside - Spiritual

107. Eits Chayim Hi - Silverman

108. Fixin’ the World - Schachet-Briskin

109. Esa Einai - Carlebach

110. Halleluyah - Psalm 150 - Folk

111. Hineh Tov M’od - Lustig

112. Jerusalem Is Mine - Karen

113. Listen - Cotler

114. Lo Alecha - Freelander

115. May You Live To See Your World Fulfilled - Schiller

116. Shir Hama’alot - Taubman

117. Standing on the Shoulders - Cotler

118. T’filat HaDerech - Friedman

119. Tov L’hodot - Janowski

120. U’va-u Ha-ovdim - Carlebach

121. V’chit-tu Charvotam - Gabbai

122. We Can Do - Silverman

123. Yesh Kochavim - Klepper

124. Y’hi Shalom B’Cheileich - Schachet-Briskin


125. D’ror Yik’ra - Adenese Folk

126. Et Dodim - Oriental Folk

127. Kol Dodi - Oriental Folk

128. P’ri Gani - Oriental Folk

129. Scalerica D’oro - Ladino Folk

130. Tsur Mishelo - Ladino Folk

131. Yom Zeh L’Yisrael - Sephardic Folk


132. Al Naharot Bavel

133. Aleiluyah - Weavers

134. Bayit Baninu - Starer

135. Blessing the Children - Parkhurst

136. Chey Artsenu - African Folk Tune

137. Hashiveinu

138. Hodu La-El - Kuhlau

139. Hava Nashira

140. Mima-a-makim

141. Lo Ira - Fuchs

142. Neitzach Yisrael - Edel

143. Shalom Aleichem - Folk

144. Sim Shalom - Dona Nobis Pacem - Palestrina


145. A Chazndl Oif Shabbes - Schack/Kipnis

146. Bei Mir Bistu Shein - Secunda

147. Belz Mein Shtetele Belz - Olshanetsky

148. Die Greene Koseene - Schwartz

149. Der Rebbe Elimeylech - Nadir

149a. Elimelech of Gilhofen - Minkoff

150. Es Brent! - Gebirtig

151. Hatikvah (pre-Herzl version) - Imber

152. Oif’n Pripetshik - Warshavsky

153. Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen - Goldfaden

154. Shein Vi Di L’vone - Rumshinsky

155. Yossel! Yossel! - Casman


156. Ach Ya Chabibi

157. Erev Ba - Levanon

158. Hava N’ran’na - Hassidic

159. Od Lo Ahavti Dai - Shemer

160. Tsadik KaTamar - Maslo

161. Tsherkesiyah


Sim Shalom (Hasidic) - Shur

Yismechu - Robert Solomon

Hashkiveinu - Helfman

Uv’tsel - Lewandowski

Shalom Aleichem - arr. Gil Aldema

Yih’yu L’ratzon - Kingsley

Haleluyah - Lewandowski (arr. Coopersmith)

Halleluyah - Lewandowski

Tzaddik KaTamar - Lewandowski

Hal’luhu - Schiller

Ivdu Et Hashem - Sher

Shehecheyanu - Nelson

R’tzei - Richards

SONGS FROM MANGINOT (With Song Numbers from the Book)

1. Hevenu Shalom Alechem - Folk

2. Hineh Mah Tov - Folk

4. Am Yisrael Chai - Carlebach

5. Am Yisrael Chai - Rockoff

9. Tumbalalaika - Folk

10. Hava Nagila - Chassidic

11. Los Bilbilicos - Folk

13. World of our Fathers - Solomon

27. Hayom Yom Huledet - Anonymous

28. Alef Bet - Friedman

32. And The Youth Shall See Visions - Friedman

33. Simon Tov - Chassidic

34. Od Yishama - Carlebach

38. Shehecheyanu - Pik

48. Mah Yafeh Hayom - Miron

50. Hamavdil - Shavua Tov - Folk

52. Shalom Aleichem - Goldfarb

53. Kiddush (erev Shabbat) - Lewandowski

55. Ki Eshm’ra Shabbat - Baghdad Folksong

58. Mi Chamocha - Nusahi

75. Maoz Tsur - Ashkenazi Melody

95. Adir Hu - Trad.

100. Eliyahu Hanavi - Folk

108. Zog Nit Keinmol - adap. Pokras

110. Ani Ma’amin - Folk

115. Erev Shel Shoshanim - Hadar

117. Shir Baboker Baboker - Artzi

120. Sisu Et Y’rushalayim - Nof

121. Y’rushalayim - Folk

122. Lach Y’rushalayim - Rubenstein

125. Yisrael V’Oraita - Folk

137. Modeh Ani - Klepper

138. Ma Tovu - Folk

139. Yism’chu Hashamayim - Hassidic

144. Mi Chamocha - Freed

145. Oseh Shalom - Hirsh

152. Torah Blessings - Traditional

157. Eileh Chamda Libi - Hassidic

158. Ein Keiloheinu - Freudenthal

159. Ein Adir - Mipi Eil - Sephardic

173. Eretz Zavat Chalav - Gamliel

181. Dodi Li - Sher

189. Lo Alecha - Klepper

195. Ani V’atah - Gabriellov

199. Leaving Mother Russia - Solomon

201. Just Another Foreigner - Sussman


Although we did not cover every song on the list, we did cover most. In addition to the packets of sheet music, I also provided each participant with a copy of "Manginot", published by Transcontinental Music and New Jewish Music Press, under the auspices of the UAHC. This resource covers songs the UAHC department of education feels young Jews should know by the time they graduate from formal religious school training, in addition to songs which build Jewish identity and teach about Jewish objects and holidays.

UNIT I: Nigunim

What is a nigun? (Song without words) Have you heard one before? How does it make you feel to sing in nonsense syllables? How can you express yourself without words? How can you make a wordless song sound sad? Happy? Angry? Why do you suppose Jewish people through the ages have sung nigunim? What purpose do they serve? The Hassids believed that all melodies originated from G-d, and it was a mitzvah to "redeem" the melody of the words which polluted it. In this way, groups of Hassidim would take a non-Jewish song and sing it as a nigun. What are some modern versions of nigunim we can make?

UNIT II: T’fillah

Look at the many ways Jewish musicians have set prayers to melodies. Listen to just the melody of a sung prayer. What message does this communicate? Look at the translation of the prayer. What is the theme? What is the mood / feeling of the prayer? Does the feeling of the prayer match the feeling of the melody?

UNIT III: Jewish and Israeli Classics

Over the past century Jews in Israel and countries which support her have written and sung music to make it part of the Jewish culture. Any time a group of Jews gets together to sing, there needs to be a basic repertoire from which to sing songs which most Israelis and musical Jews know. Some are "chalutznik" songs, which came from early in the century to build spirit for working the land of Israel to make it green. Some are by Israel’s "official" poets and songwriters, who are popular enough to make their songs instant classics. The rest, through singing around campfires, in kibbutz celebrations, and played on the radio, have become folk tradition.

UNIT IV: Children’s Songs

What is the first song you learned? What was the point (what do the words really mean?) It’s probably just a silly song that is fun to sing. Israeli and Jewish children also have a repertoire of songs with easy, fun, sometimes silly lyrics. American students love to learn them and grapple with the Hebrew; adults love to reminisce or share experiences about their own childhood play songs.

UNIT V: American Composers

The American Jewish "scene" has produced popular Jewish songwriters and songs. Many of the Jewish songs we sing around a campfire or camp-style song session in America were written by American Jews like ourselves. Starting in the early part of the century, composers like A. W. Binder added "All the World" to the Reform repertoire. Camps and youth groups sang Max Helfman’s tune to "Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. Jews from all backgrounds enjoy the simple and heart-felt tunes by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach set to classic Hebrew texts. Relative newcomers on the scene, Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper, and Craig Taubman, among others, are lending their talent to enriching American Jewish culture in our own dialect. Will you be a leading Jewish composer?

UNIT VI: Yemenite and Ladino

Where do your parents come from? Grandparents? Ancestors? If they are from "Sepharad", including Spain, Portugal, the Middle East, and anywhere else in the former Turkish empire, they might have spoken Ladino, a mix between Spanish and Hebrew. The melodies are also quite different from what we might be used to hearing.

UNIT VII: Rounds

One of the most wonderful things about rounds is that everybody knows every part of the song, so no matter how many people are singing, beautiful harmonies are always there.

UNIT VIII: Yiddish

What language was spoken in your family’s home in the early part of this century? If it was Yiddish, the popular name for the language was "Jewish". (What’s the Jewish language now?) Where did Yiddish come from? (Eastern Europe, Germany, Russia...) Is it a dead language? Where is Yiddish spoken today? (Boro Park, Russia, Israel...) Where locally can we find someone who would know Yiddish? (The Seniors’ clubs, retirement homes, recent Russian immigrants...) In the late 1800s and early 1900s Jewish culture was kept alive and spread throughout the new world in the Yiddish Theater -- dramas, comedies, musicals -- even operas -- all in Yiddish. Many people who still remember Yiddish Theater, perhaps your grandparents or great grandparents, can tell you how amazingly popular the plays and the songs from that era were. (The students can learn a few Yiddish songs from someone who knows Yiddish and perform them at the seniors’ club or a retirement home.)

UNIT IX: Dances

Have you ever listened to the words of the songs to which we dance? You may be surprised to find out just what the songs are saying, and how they relate to the movements we make during the dance.

UNIT X: Choir Pieces

Listen to a synagogue choir, a Cantors’ concert, a Hillel choral performance, or a recording to hear how composers since the earliest times of written music until today’s syncopated rhythms have directed people to "sing unto G-d".

At the end of the packet, I included a unit on a brief history of Jewish music through the ages, from Biblical times through significant developments of the 20th Century specifically as concerns Reform Jews. To that I added a tour of the prayer service, highlighting prayer structure, a blueprint of the Amidah, and a guide to prayer names and themes. And, as the units progressed, I passed out music I or the group developed for a "final performance". All in all, we touched on major trends in Jewish music and I think the students gained at least an awareness and appreciation, if not an infatuation with Jewish music.


The following people were very generous with their time, their patience, and their cooperation to make this combination oral history and genre definition as complete as it is. I am indebted to: Dr. Samuel Adler, David Altshuler, Ph.D., Merri Arian, Rabbi Ramie Arian, Ruben Arquilevich, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, Cantor Richard Botton, Rabbi Gerald Brieger , Rabbi Lester Bronstein, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, Cantor Charles Davidson, Loui Dobin, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Steve Dropkin, Rabbi Daniel Freelander, David Friedman, Debbie Friedman, Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff, Rabbi Morris Hershman, Rabbi Wolli Kaelter, Rabbi Jim Kaufman, Cantor Jeffrey Klepper, Carol Levy, Gordon Lustig, Rabbi Laurence Milder, Doug Mishkin, Rabbi David Nelson, Dr. Kerry Olitzky, Judith Ovadia, Kathy Pither, Paul Reichenbach, Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller, Cantor William Sharlin, Julie Silver, Cantor Richard Silverman, Cantor Raymond Smolover, Ben Steinberg, Jeff Summit, Craig Taubman, Dr. Judith Tischler, and Cantor David Unterman.

Thank you to the people who took on the additional task of reading and rereading drafts and offering insightful advice, Mr. Mark Kligman, Rabbi David Nelson, Stu Schwartz and especially Rabbi Lester Bronstein.

Thanks to the SSM Class of 1996 -- Julie, Heather, Devorah, Claire, Jordan, Fredda, Brian, Adelle, Judith, David, Dan, Lori, Rachel and Steve.

I will be ever grateful to my parents, Boyd and Sylvia Briskin, who gave me the love of song and the opportunity to go to camp to find my own connection to Judaism. Thank you for the roots and wings.

And to the love of my life, my best friend, my inspiration, and the one who believes in me, Tammy Schachet-Briskin: thanks.


TO THE READER: Make sure you read the endnotes -- there are some gems.