Inspiring the Next Generation Through Song

Rabbi's Message - April 19, 2022


Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

My most formative Jewish moments have been with Dan Nichols.  At Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) in Zionsville, Indiana, Dan was a legend even before he reached legendary status.  He was the most sought after “lights out” program, serenading young campers to sleep with his guitar as they listened to him sing Harry Chapin songs and sang the evening Shema.  Dan has always been full of joy, kindness, inspiration, and enthusiasm, and he set the bar for Jewish music.  While Dan says that he, himself, “is a product of Jewish summer camping,” Dan has also been a catalyst for the next generation of campers who are discovering their own love of Judaism through his music.  The joy I feel when I see our campers, including my own children, go a bit crazy singing and dancing to Dan’s uplifting song sessions is indescribable.  I guess you will have to experience it yourself!

Dan will be with us this Shabbat, joining us on our (newly renovated) bimah followed by a Post-Passover Pizza Party and concert.  Dan’s liturgical and contemporary Jewish music spans generations and the talent he brings is truly a gift to us all.  Young or old, you will not want to miss this.  Dan is classically trained singer.  He has a background in opera and has experience as a cantorial soloist.  He received his Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance at the University of North Carolina. Then, in 1995, Dan realized the potential of music to make powerful connections with Jewish youth and established the Jewish rock band Eighteen. Since that time, Dan and Eighteen have released 13 albums and several of his songs have become Jewish communal anthems throughout North America.  
Dan has an impressive amount of experience.  He has toured over 190 days a year for the last 20 years, where he often serves as artist-in-residence and teacher for congregations and camp communities. He has served on the faculty of Hava Nashira since 2001. In 2009 he co-founded Shulhouse Rock, a songleading workshop for Jewish high-school students. He has performed live in Israel at the historic fortress of Masada and in the studio for the groundbreaking XM Radio presentation of Radio Hanukkah. In addition to these highlights, Dan has been featured at conferences and conventions of nearly every major Jewish movement, including the URJ Biennial, NFTY Convention, BBYO International, Limmud and the Wexner Heritage Program. 
In addition to his musical talent, Dan is a creative story teller who is deeply dedicated to tikkun olam.  He created the "Road to Eden Deep South Sukkot Tour" to bring the message of Sukkot to communities in the southern United States, where he and his band played 11 shows in 10 days.  Their experiences are captured in the documentary film, Road to Eden.
Get a taste of Dan’s heartfelt music and learn more about his successful career:
Watch videos of Dan sharing his powerful, soulful Jewish music with the world:

The Healing Powers of Music

The Healing Powers of Music

Music Director’s Message – November 24, 2020

Courtney Cummings, Music Director

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” -Dr. Oliver Sacks

Music inspires so many things – it can alleviate depression, mirror our feelings of sadness or joy, move us to dance, and allow us to communicate with others and with ourselves on another level.  In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks investigates the power of music to move us, to heal us, and to haunt us.  As a neurologist, he explains how the brain functions differently with music, and how it occupies more portions of the brain than language alone.  This particular book follows individual stories of how music has improved the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and amnesia, among other medical conditions.  Lines of communication open for the first time, memories are unlocked, and words are spoken when there once were none.  If music has that kind of power, what impact does it have on the rest of us? 

Think about your favorite song.  Did it just bring a smile to your face?  Did you start to hum the melody or sing the lyrics in your head?  Did your mood shift?  Music stimulates the brain centers that register reward and pleasure, which is why listening to that favorite song can actually make you feel happy.

We are all living in the pandemic world of 2020.  It’s not one we have seen before.  Sadness, loss, chaos, and uncertainty have the potential to overwhelm us at any moment.  But what if we make a different choice?  What if we choose to harness to power of harmonized sound to improve our well-being?  What if we create our own soundtrack, filled with love, light, and hope?

Lucky for us, our Jewish tradition is filled with beautiful melodies that inspire and evoke awe.  The soulful words of our liturgy have been artfully set to music by Jewish masters of composition dating back to the time of King Solomon.  Music has been used by our people for thousands of years as a means to tell a story, set a tone or mood, and keep our traditions alive.  It has sustained us this far and will continue to do so, as long as we allow it.

This being the 21st century, we can access music with the touch of our finger, likely from the device sitting in our pocket.  Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Pandora make it easy to listen to our favorites –  anytime, anywhere.  Harness this age of technology to explore new music and expand your horizons.  Need some guidance?  Here are a few soul-nourishing Jewish favorites:

Noah Aronson and Elana Arian’s collaboration of Ahavah Rabbah is a soulful, simple setting of a prayer from the morning liturgy that reaches into your soul and celebrates the power of God’s love.  

In Heal Us Now, composer Leon Sher writes a heart-felt prayer for healing, health, and stability, utilizing texts from different sources and a gentle driving chord structure.

This prayer of thanks, Modim Anachnu Lach, has both a grounded feel, but also an air of whimsy and triumph in its musical-theater style approach to the liturgical text and interpretive English translation.  It reminds us to be grateful for the little things. 

Louis Lewandowski’s 19th century setting of Halleluyah harnesses the power of the voice to sing praises to God.  This particular performance from the Boston Zamir Chorale also gives insight into the composer’s history and life story and is sure to leave you exhilarated.  

Stand Strong by Laurie Akers encompasses themes of strength, togetherness, inclusiveness, and peace, and it is sure to inspire every listener to feel uplifted and empowered.

Our journey this year has been tough. And the road may continue to be bumpy for a long time, but we have a tool to make our own experience just a little bit smoother.  Make time and space for music in your life, as it might just be the medicine you need to survive this trying time with an open heart, gentle mind, and nourished soul.