We were thrilled to welcome our friend, singer/songwriter and rabbi Noam Katz back to Crane Lake this week! Noam spent three days with us, leading morning t’filah and lunchtime song session, teaching his music during shirah and chugim, serving as a special guest at our 4th of July singing celebration, and helping to tell the story of our Ugandan counselors after spending time volunteering with their community. Read on as Jeff Schwartz, our Head Songleader, reflects on our time with his mentor.
Noam Katz wrote so much of the music that we sing at camp, including Roll Into Dark, our favorite melody for Ma’ariv Aravim, as well as some of our favorite melodies for Am Yisrael Chai, Ufaratzta, and Oseh Shalom. The campers, and even myself, were surprised and excited to learn just how much of his music we sing at camp. It was really fun to watch Noam teach his own music, which he has imbued with his own stories and energy. I noticed that Noam brings a lot of hand motions to his music, which is a really great way to engage the kids and also to help them connect with the meanings of the texts. Crane Lake loves some good hand motions!
Noam also shared with me some of his observations about how our community has developed since his last visit to CLC in 2009. He saw how much the singing culture at camp has grown in the past several years, and how much the campers really get into t’filah and song sessions. We talked a lot about how to how to continue to offer opportunities for our camper and staff songleaders and musicians to have more chances to grow and shine. Noam also observed how special it is that Crane Lake has maintained a thriving tradition of folk song singing which has been lost in other venues. It is pretty remarkable that kids at CLC are still excited about singing songs like Cats in the Cradle, Circle Game, Puff the Magic Dragon, and One Tin Soldier, the likes of which we’ve been singing since the early days of Crane Lake Camp.
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Noam’s visit was when he helped us learn more about the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, home to two of our counselors this summer- Norah and Ziporah. The Abayudaya were founded in 1919 when a regional chieftain received a Torah translated into the local language of Luganda and chose to convert to Judaism. The community was revitalized in the 1970’s by youth movements, and they now have a Jewish population of around 1000 families. Noam actually met our Ugandan counselors when they were children during his long term volunteer experience in east Africa in 2003. It was fascinating to see his photos of their synagogue, havdalah ceremony, mikvah, and family and friends. In fact, much of Noam’s music was inspired by his time with Norah and Ziporah’s unique African Jewish community. Together, they taught us how to sing Hinei Mah Tov in Luganda, as well as their melody for the Shema and Noam’s song inspired by their community: “Mirembe, Salaam, v’Shalom.” I can’t wait to work with Norah and Zippy to incorporate some of this unique cultural experience into our t’filah throughout the rest of the summer!
Jeff Schwartz is returning to Crane Lake Camp for his fourth summer as Head Songleader. Jeff graduated from Cornell University in 2014 with a double major in Philosophy & Religious Studies and has worked previously as Youth Advisor at his home congregation, Old York Road Temple Beth Am in Abington, PA and as the Reform Engagement Associate at Cornell Hillel. Jeff’s favorite place on camp is down by the lake and his favorite camp song is “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.