at Cantors' Assembly Convention - May 8, 2001
Dorph, National Ramah Director
It is a special pleasure to speak
to you today, in the presence of two members of the Cantors’
Assembly who hold special meaning for me personally.
My childhood friend,
Cantor Neil Newman. We grew up together in Philadelphia during our
post-Bar Mitzvah through college years, at our shul, Ahovath Israel
and at Gratz College. We also shared a mentor and role model who is
here today, Cantor Maurice Moshe Weiss, who was our chazzan at
Ahavath Israel, taught us our Bar Mitzvah, and allowed us to sing in
his teen choir on high holidays. I vividly remember bar mitzvah
lessons with Moshe. We all brought our mitts and bats to the back
lot of the synagogue and played ball until we were called to
rehearse. About 5 p.m. the Cantor would need a break, so he’d come
out and hit baseballs to us for 15 minutes. Now that is a role
We have a great
opportunity to think about Ramah and the Cantors’ Assembly
partnering in Jewish education; for Ramah and the synagogue are the
two places where kids have an opportunity to learn to daven, to
sing, to use their synagogue skills. We have exploited this great
opportunity only in part, and I need to ask some hard questions to
put the opportunities in perspective so we can move ahead.
- What will you do
with the kids when they return from Ramah? Do you know who they
are? Can you make a liturgical space for them in the shul? How
can you access them? Involve them? Refine their skills? Grow
- Do you teach the
teachers in your school? They see our campers 2-3 times a week.
They need your advice and leadership on weekday nusach, leading
services, making use of Ramah kids.
- Can you begin to
think of the Ramah Camps as the summer campuses of your
synagogues? Visit your campers, talk to the directors, plan to
spend a couple of days at camp during the week.
Here are some of the
initiatives Ramah has undertaken in the past 10 years, which touch
on our partnering in nusach and music, and leadership for our kids:
has published two Shironim edited by your own Cantor Ricki
Lippitz and her team: Kol B’Ramah for weekdays and Israeli
songs and Shiron L’Shabbat for Zmirot on Shabbat. Ramah
Wisconsin is producing a new Eicha with commentary this summer.
Magen has edited a new Hebrew siddur called Lev Yisrael,
published by Ktav, and Rabbi Sarah Graff has edited an
interactive siddur for younger children at Ramah Darom.
nusach requirement at the JTS Rabbinical School has helped us
improve weekday and Shabbat nusach at Ramah. It is an important
is important to remember that each Ramah camp enrolls children
from over 100 synagogues and day schools. Each may have its own
tunes and/or nusach, and some do not have properly-trained
chazzanim. This presents an interesting educational and
liturgical challenge to Ramah, both in terms of Judaic studies
and nusach. Most of our camps provide bar/bat mitzvah tutoring
for kids who have bar mitzvah dates between September and
November, using the local chazzan’s tapes.
1991, the Seminary and Ramah established the Alexander M.
Shapiro (z’’l) Fellowships for rabbinical students to attend
Ramah. With increased support in 1995, the program was extended
to Cantorial students at JTS. This summer, six cantorial
students will receive fellowships to attend our camps. This will
further strengthen nusach and music at our camps. The support
and encouragement of Dean Hazzan Henry Rosenblum has been
critical in this process and we are overjoyed that my former
head of waterfront at Ramah Berkshires now heads the Miller
years ago, Henry helped me establish a joint semester course for
education for junior-year cantorial and rabbinical students.
This has now expanded to include a year of practical pulpit
preparation in the senior year, which he and Rabbi William Le
Beau teach to both cadres. All of us realize that the creation
of professional respect and partnering between rabbi and chazzan
is critical to congregational success.
- Lastly, over the
last three years, Hazzan Jack Chomsky and Rabbi David Soloff,
director of Ramah Wisconsin, have initiated a
chazzan-in-residence program at Wisconsin, which is now
spreading to other Ramah camps. Jack prepared a nusach tape for
us, which is being given to each Cantorial student attending
Ramah. If you are interested in serving in this capacity, you
should let Hazzan Chomsky know. Of course you need to be able
and willing to "rough it" at camp for at least two
weeks, but you will be able to inspire and shape our youth in
camp in so many ways!
If music gives voice to the Jewish
soul, then we need you as teachers and models so our Ramah youth
will learn to sing!