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A Few Words from Director of Jewish Learning & Engagement Tani Prell Epstein

Greetings from the URJ’s 6 Points Creative Arts Academy! My past week has been filled with instruments playing in the hallways, Jewish classics harmonized like I’ve never heard before, and the most art-filled Shabbat I’ve ever experienced. For the past week, kids from across the country have gathered in Westchester, Pennsylvania to focus on their majors of dance, visual art, theater, culinary arts, and creative writing while being fully immersed in Judaism. To blend Judaism and the arts, the Creative Arts Academy focuses on the five values of Creativity (Yetzirah), Curiosity (Sakranut), Collaboration (Shiluv), Craftsmanship (M’lacha) and Grit (Ometz Lev). Each one plays a special role in the life of camp.

Creativity: As a camp filled with artists, creativity is a value that each camper recognizes as being at the forefront of their identities. From developing original dances to improving ten-minute scenes, at CAA, the kids even find ways to make their grilled cheeses creative. Just yesterday they placed soup on top of their sandwiches while making designs out of their Goldfish crackers!

Collaboration: Shabbat is one of the greatest opportunities for collaboration at CAA. Campers gather across their majors to create collaborative pieces of art, music and even a Jewsical! On Thursday, the creative writers went into the dance room to observe an improvised dance that the dance majors created. The writers then wrote short stories about what they interpreted the dancers doing. This collaboration happens across camp and connects to the theme of the summer: “Im ein ani li mi li uchsheani l’atsmi ma ani, V’im lo achshav eimatai, im lo achshav eimatai. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” As artists, your work needs to be personal and you need to connect to what you create. At the same time, your art has the power to serve a greater purpose when shared with others. And for those who have the privilege of being able to express themselves through the arts, there is no better time than now to share that gift.

Grit: Grit takes on a new meaning at the Creative Arts Academy. Whether it’s finding the courage to keep going after you’ve forgotten your lines, starting a new batch from scratch after it burned in the oven, fighting through that writer’s block, or standing back up after you’ve fallen out of a dance turn, campers are always encouraged to work through the discomfort in order to come out even stronger. In these moments, we always remind campers that resilience and grit is at the heart of Judaism, and that they have a long tradition of people who have found ways to keep going despite challenges.

Curiosity: Asking questions is central to Judaism. Every time campers are encouraged to consider new ways to explore their art, they are reminded that they are participating in a longstanding Jewish tradition.

Craftsmanship: For this group of campers, their artistic form is at the center of who they are. CAA allows their art to be every part of their every day. Woken up with music, given hours of guidance by knowledgeable arts mentors, and near endless practice time, campers are at a place where their art is seen as a skill to be honed and valued in their time here.

Last year I got to bring my performing arts background onto the stage as the faculty supporting theater. This year I get to put my Creative Writing major to use as the faculty member helping the Creative Writers. While I’m not writing with campers, I’m teaching tennis to kids across ages. With one week of the session complete, and one still to go, the Creative Arts Academy is already making an impactful difference in the lives of every camper, and in my own life. Next Sunday, the campers will put all of their artistic talents on display at a Showcase; an event celebrating the collaboration of Judaism and the arts. From now on, I’ll always think of the values of creativity, collaboration, grit, craftsmanship, and curiosity through an even more artistic lens.

I hope that everyone’s summer is filled with beauty and love.

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