By Max Silverstone
For our final Shabbaton, we stayed at a lakeside resort in Ein Gev, on the Eastern side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). In addition to hiking together, swimming together, learning together and spending shabbat together, this weekend was defined for me by our bonfires on the beach. On Thursday night, after we all got to tie dye our own Nachshon shirts, we gathered at the smooth and serene shores of the Kinneret to spend time together as a cohort laughing, eating, singing, and bonding.
Running this bonfire was a great way for many of us to use the same skills we use at our various camps. The fire was prepared by fellows who also do that very same job over the summer. We enjoyed s’mores and banana boats (bananas filled with chocolate and marshmallows, wrapped in tinfoil and put over a fire). This got to run smoothly because a few fellows took initiative to organize the food and help distribute it in an orderly manner, something every camp counselor knows all too well. Most importantly to me, we sang many songs together, in English and Hebrew, familiar and new. We were led by Leah Sherin, Hannah Taylor, and myself singing and playing guitar, and Adina Samuels accompanying on the violin. I also brought some basic percussion instruments, and got to pass them around to fellows who wanted to use them to add to our beautiful sound. The four of who lead the singing all had combined experience in the four major denominations of American Judaism, and this added priceless value to our making music together. The cohort sang together on the beach while the fire burned, learning each others’ music, while we watched the still waters of the Kinneret, with the holy city of Tiberias on the other side.
While planning music for the bonfire, I talked to fellows and other friends about what songs to use. Along with breaking out some classics I’ve known for years, I also learned a few new songs, that I heard other people in the cohort might be familiar with, even if I did not grow up singing them at camp. It was incredible to see other people knowing and getting into the music they had known for years, but I had only known for a few days. It really made me feel the beauty of participating in a program that brings together Jews from all backgrounds. Music breaks down the barriers between denominations, between political differences, and between the towns, synagogues, youth groups, schools, and camps we come from.
Songs do not necessarily belong to one denomination, do not (usually) carry any political value, and do not put some people over others. Music is art, and if there’s a good song, anyone can listen to it, learn it, and most importantly, sing it and find value in it.
In just a few short weeks, I will find myself back in the queit town of Wingdale, in upstate New York, for another incredible summer on music staff at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. While we may not have one of the four holy cities on the other side of the lake, or may not even be in the holy land, I can still take back my experience from Nachshon to camp. Part of my job at camp is to play music at campfires, just like at the beach in Ein Gev. I will not only use songs that I know the campers will know from previous summers at camp, or what they hear on the radio, but I will also use music that I learned from my fellow fellows here in Israel. The best way to describe singing around a campfire is magical, and I hope that at camp this summer, I can reveal some of the beauty and magic that I got to experience on that unforgettable night in Ein Gev.