Collections: Judah Cohen - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Reform Jewish Musical Leadership, Training, and Practice (1999-2000)

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Songleaders at the Kutz Camp Institute lead a communal paraliturgical song session at the camp session's final banquet, Warwick, New York, 2000. Image from video © Judah Cohen.

The materials in this collection provide a cross section of musical leadership and training in American Reform Judaism in 1999-2000. Video footage comes from three sites: the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Jerusalem campus, where the movement's clergy receive their first-year training; Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; and the Kutz Camp Institute, Reform Judaism's central leadership development camp in Warwick, New York.

American Reform Judaism, founded as an alliance of synagogues in 1875, is the oldest organized Jewish religious movement in North America. Based on principles of adaptation and change, the Reform movement has long looked to its musical practices as an important differentiator of its identity. After World War II, this ideology led to the establishment of two important institutions: the School of Sacred Music (founded 1948), which became the first major school to educate cantors (Jewish musical precentors) in the United States; and a youth camping system that established its first permanent site in 1952, which incorporated folksong repertoire and values into its daily operations. By the turn of the twenty-first century (when this video material was collected), Reform Judaism had become the largest organized Jewish religious movement in America, with about 1.5 million members, 900 synagogues, a sizeable cantorial organization, and thirteen summer camps.

This collection provides video of defining musical events at each of the three locations mentioned above. The Hebrew Union College material includes a required morning service, instituted as an educational exercise, co-led by first-year rabbinical and cantorial students and evaluated by faculty; a brief clip of dancing in the Hebrew Union College courtyard for the Jewish fall holiday of Simchat Torah; and two independently organized "creative" services planned by students who felt unfulfilled by existing worship options. The OSRUI materials chronicle the musical events of a Friday evening in July 2000—a time period widely seen as a highlight of the camping experience that includes Shabbat Shirah, an extended song session attended by the entire camp population. The Kutz Camp material provides a wider range of musical practices at that summer camp, from a segment of a songleading training class, to a pre-Sabbath song session, to a Friday evening Sabbath religious service, to the events of the final days of the camp session—including an hour-long song session featuring the camp's full summer repertoire.

Taken together, these tapes show two major musical traditions co-existing within a single movement: one based on an art music aesthetic, and one based on a folk music aesthetic. The material consequently explores how these two traditions interact (and perhaps compete) in three key sites of Reform Jewish musical enculturation.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © Judah Cohen

Judah Cohen (PhD Music, Harvard University, 2002) currently serves as Lou and Sybil Mervis Professor of Jewish Culture and Assistant Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. He has written and published essays on numerous aspects of music in American Jewish life, including '"And the Youth Shall See Visions": Songleading, Summer Camps, and Identity Among Reform Jewish Teenagers' in Musical Childhoods and the Cultures of Youth (Wesleyan, 2006). He is also the author of Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands (Brandeis University Press, 2004). Current research interests of his include the cultivation of musical authority, musical theater, Jewish popular music, musical responses to the AIDS pandemic, Jewish Caribbean history, and the discourses associated with Jewish music.

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