December 8, 2019

Art of Summer

Max and Jesse Glaser come from a home where the fine arts are highly valued. Their father, Sam Glaser, is a well-known Jewish musician, and as their mother, Marcia, says, “We have a lot of artistic muses in our family.” But because Max and Jesse are being educated in Orthodox yeshivas, where creative self-expression often takes a backseat to intensive academic study, they have had little opportunity to pursue the arts during their school years.

So when Marcia heard of an Orthodox summer camp that offered music and art, “we jumped at it,” she says.

Camp Ruach, also known as the Los Angeles Jewish Camp for Music and the Arts, debuted this summer on the grounds of Yeshivath Ohr Eliyahu Day School in Culver City. The camp runs five days a week through Aug. 7.

An introductory program, conducted by experts in early childhood arts education, Ruach caters to boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 6. There is also a sophisticated music and art curriculum tailored to boys through eighth grade. (The administrators hope to establish a girls’ camp at a separate facility in the future.)

Campers begin their mornings with prayer and Torah study, and enjoy outdoor activities led by an experienced sports coach. But the heart of each day is devoted to the arts: the boys receive small-group instruction from professional musicians on a wide range of instruments, or they can explore ceramics, calligraphy, woodwork, acrylics, pastels and other media. An alumnus from the Groundlings comedy school in Los Angeles teaches improv. Also on staff are a photographer and an animator who worked on Disney’s “Tarzan” and “Hercules.”

Camp Ruach’s founder, Rabbi Dovid Sudaley, is a member of the Ohr Eliyahu faculty, and serves as youth director at Anshe Emes Synagogue in Los Angeles, the camp’s sponsoring organization. Sudaley is also a trained musician who studied at Juilliard and worked as an off-Broadway composer before seriously embracing Judaism.

Great care has been taken, in material sent to the parents of the 100 children currently enrolled, to spell out rules of conduct that are consistent with traditional Orthodox values. For instance, youngsters are cautioned not to discuss Pokémon or television programs while at camp.

The camp choir will probably build its repertoire from Hebrew songs, but participants are free to experience a wide range of musical compositions. Nor is the entire teaching staff Jewish, such as Washington Rucker, a well-established African American drummer who often demonstrates jazz in public schools.

Rucker, who first met Sudaley at a musical gig, has high respect for his musicianship. Although he has never before tried teaching Orthodox Jewish children, Rucker believes that music transcends all ethnic boundaries. He says he and the children will learn from one another. “I think it’s important that people come together — and if music can be the conduit, so be it,” he adds.

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