Songs of Summer

We all know by now that watching videos of dragon puppets playing musical instruments isn’t going to produce a little Mozart out of our toddlers. And even the laziest Jewish parent doesn’t believe that scrolling menorahs on the t.v. are a valid substitute for Jewish education.

Still, I’m a big fan of the Oy Baby! videos. I’m not saying my kids are ready to take on Torah study after listening to “Af, Pen Ozen” 700 times, but it’s pretty cool that they learned the morning prayer “Modeh Ani” before they could pronounce “orange juice.”

Plus, without Oy Baby, 96 percent of this blog would not have been written between 2003 and 2007. So I wholeheartedly recommend it as the beginning of a well-balanced spiritual breakfast to introduce your young child to Jewish symbols and songs as well as an opportunity to distract him or her while you take a much-needed shower (You with the binky in your pocket and spit-up in your hair, you can borrow mine.)

Videos alone won’t ensure that your kid grows up to connect to Judaic traditions and pass them along to your grandchildren (may we all be so blessed,) but studies have shown that spending summers at Jewish camp definitely have a positive influence. (Unless, of course, yours is the kid who smells and everyone is mean to, in which case these studies mean nothing and your kid will totally eschew Judaism altogether and join an ashram, so you should pack extra toothpaste just in case.)

My own nine years’ experience at Camp Alonim near Los Angeles in the 80s had a hugely positive impact on my Jewish identity, since I was one of four Jewish kids in a suburban Arizona high school of 2000 Mormons. I had never seen tefillin before or observed Shabbat, and I experienced a “belongingness” that just wasn’t possible at home (I also learned about bulimia and how to blow smoke rings, but that was waaaay later.) I loved the wild-haired music director who taught us all the words to the Debbie Friedman songbook on Friday nights and “American Pie” on the Fourth of July. The friends I made were different, closer somehow, and I knew that whatever happened in high school, there was a larger world waiting for me with people in it who shared my beliefs and heritage.

The producers of Oy Baby! must know what I’m talking about because they’ve just released We Sang That At Camp, an “ultimate mix” of Hebrew and English faves for those of us who know GaGa ain’t just some lady who can’t find a pair of pants. Tell me, does not “Bashanah Haba’ah” evoke memories of snaking around the Pavilion during Israeli folk dancing hour? And surely, no one who ever had to wave good-bye to nine bunkmates cry-whispering “Leavin’ On A Jet Plane” can hear that tune without sniffling.

I’ve been listening to We Sang That At Camp around the Yenta house a couple of days now and El Yenta Man has been very accommodating of my sudden hankering for Carvel ice cream sandwiches at bedtime but notsomuch the urge to put shaving cream in his shoes.

Interestingly, the acquisition of the CD has coincided with our decision that Yenta Boy is finally old enough to attend Jewish sleepaway camp — as of yesterday, he’s officially scheduled for a month in the mountains this July. I’ll miss him so much, but can’t wait to sing with him when he gets home.

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