Reposted from www.JTnews.org
By: Corey Salka
“That’s really what Jewish mysticism says. What God is trying to do with this world is to figure out who he is through us” Matisyahu offered to the campers at Camp Solomon Schechter. Matisyahu, known for his fusion of reggae, hip-hop and beat box sounds with the wisdom of Chasidic Judaism performed to 200 enthusiastic campers at Camp Solomon Schechter on Friday July 29th. Appearing for the second year in a row, Camp Solomon Schechter is the only Jewish summer camp to ever host Matisyahu.
“We are so blessed to be able to have him share his message about peace, being proud of being Jewish, and pride in Israel. I’m thrilled that he feels passionate about Jewish camping; it’s a real joy to see the faces of our kids when he enters the amphitheater. He is an incredible inspiration to our campers” said Sam Perlin, the camp’s Executive Director.
After thunderous welcoming applause, Matisyahu said “It’s great to be back” and launched into one of his most popular hits, “Jerusalem.” Between songs Matisyahu engaged in a warm conversation with the campers, at times offering humor, as well as serious and deep messages. Included in the 45 minute performance were his songs “Thunder, “Temple,” “Darkness,” and “King Without A Crown.” He capped off his appearance with one of his greatest hits “One Day,” which has been the camp’s theme song since his first visit last summer.
Beyond the music, however, Matisyahu’s message clearly resonated with his audience. Before enjoying a swim in Camp Solomon Schechter’s pristine lake with his two young sons, Matisyahu engaged in a personal question and answer session with the campers.
When asked what inspired him to become religious, Matisyahu spoke of always believing in God from the time he was young. “When I was a teenager and I was going through things whenever I felt alone or down, there were times I felt I needed to come back to myself. I always felt that I had a certain destiny that I had something important going on inside of me, and I believed that God would help me manifest that. So in times before I ever thought about religion or Judaism, when I would feel disconnected I would just try to reconnect, whether that meant going down to the water, taking a walk, singing a song, or writing some lyrics. But it wasn’t working well enough for me to just do it on my own; I needed help with it. I wanted to foster a relationship with God; I wanted to build it, figure out how to develop it. So I just started davening. I felt that somehow there was something real about the Hebrew words and the Hebrew language and letters. Even if I couldn’t understand them, I felt that saying those words, saying those letters was going to open up some doors.”
The lessons of Matisyahu’s youth are a powerful message for today’s Jewish kids. “It’s really cool to have Matisyahu at our camp” said Jacqueline Schwartz, a 14 year old camper from Seattle. “It’s not seen as cool to be Jewish; we’re really stereotyped at the public school where I go. So seeing Matisyahu as a religious Jew who is cool, who rides motorcycles and tells jokes is really cool. He’s not the stereotypical Jew which most of us are seen as to our non-Jewish friends.”
“There are not a lot of Jewish role models who are singers out there right now” said 14 year old Rebecca Kahn of Portland. “It’s really helpful and awesome to have him visit camp. I know people who didn’t come last year; they were so upset they didn’t get to see him. And now they’re here and they’re so happy.” Lindsey Carmen, a fifteen year old from Portland commented on how Matisyahu has helped bring new kids to Camp Solomon Schechter. “I think it’s really special that we’ve been able to bring someone in from the Jewish Community that represents so much for us, twice now… which is really cool, it’s really exciting. It’s definitely a draw for getting new campers.”
Rafael Kintzer, an 18 year old staff member from Seattle reflected upon the impact of Matisyahu’s appearance on the rest of the camp session. “I think Matisyahu injects amazing Jewish energy and spirit into everyone at camp. He gives everyone a burst of joy to come to camp being happy from the start. That’s so important, because Jewish camping opens doors in so many ways. Jewish camping changes how people think about the world. It’s much more global than I think a lot of camps can bring. There is so much emphasis put upon peace, and love, and kindness towards others at Camp Solomon Schechter.”
The importance of these values were echoed by the Israeli Scouts, who are attending camp this summer as part of a highly selective delegation. Ben Oz, a 17 year old from Ashdod said “At first it was kind of weird because we didn’t know anybody. But the kids are really friendly and now we know everyone. We were really lucky to get here. We heard that Matisyahu was here last year, but we didn’t expect him to be here again.” “He has such amazing music” said Merav Rosenberg, a 17 year old from Jerusalem. “Seeing him here brings so much spirit and makes the camp experience so much stronger and alive.”
Reflecting upon the origins of his music Matisyahu spoke of the bridge between his music and Judaism. “My whole life all I really wanted to do is to make music. When I became religious and went to yeshiva I just let go of it. I just said that if this is my destiny, if this is what God wants for me then I have to figure out the other parts of my life first.”
For today’s generation of Jewish youth Matisyahu’s message is powerful; to succeed at one’s passions they must be integrated with the rest life. And at the end of the day this is the essence of Jewish camping: opportunities to grow, learn, and experience nature and the joy of Judaism with friends, and at Camp Solomon Schechter it’s happening with the Chasidic wisdom of Matisyahu.