Songs of Jewish summer camps on new CD

Did you know that many of the tunes sung at Shabbat minyans and Sunday schools across the Jewish universe were actually written by Jewish kids wearing T-shirts and tennis shoes in the middle of the woods?

Over the last 40 years, song leaders from Jewish summer camps have made enormous contributions to contemporary Jewish culture. Some of those folks went on to fame (if not exactly fortune) in the realm of Jewish music, their youthful compositions evolving into modern-day classics.

Now, many of the more familiar songs born around the campfires have been collected in “American Jewish Summer,” a newly released 17-track compilation CD.

The brainchild of composer Michael Isaacson, “American Jewish Summer” may surprise some listeners. They may not have realized that Jeff Klepper and Dan Friedlander’s exquisite 1974 setting of “Shalom Rav” began life as a camp song. The same is true for Gordon Lustig’s “Hiney Tov M’od” and Craig Taubman’s beautiful “Shir Hamalot” (written when he was 15), all tunes now woven into the fabric of contemporary Jewish worship.

Like most compilation albums, this one is uneven in terms of performances and recording quality. The best tracks could be categorized as worship songs, drawing on sacred texts and usually sung in Hebrew. They include those mentioned above, along with Linda Kates’ version of “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah,” written when its composer Andrew Vogel was just a teenager.

All are solidly performed, restrained yet enlivened with youthful energy.

Unfortunately, not all the tracks prove as evocative. Most were influenced by the folk tradition of the 1950s and 1960s, which itself was impacted by the progressive politics of the era. Thus overly earnest topical tunes like Doug Mishkin’s “Make Those Waters Part” and Wally Schachet-Briskin’s “Fixin’ The World” are unbearably dated and come off like “A Mighty Wind” rejects.

Even some of the worship songs, like Patti Linsky’s performance of Issacson’s solemn “Shneihem” and Schachet-Briskin’s “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” suffer from a kind of melodic sluggishness (though Linsky’s operatic soprano is lovely).

In contrast, both the great Debbie Friedman’s frenetically uptempo “Not By Might” (her original 1974 recording) and Sam Glaser’s delirious doo-wop “Shabbas” could easily make Judaism seem cool to a moody 15-year-old.

Danny Maseng’s “Ma Tovu,” though more sedate, is another winner: stately, melodic and spiritually elevating. The same is true for Les Bronstein’s “How Glorious,” sung by the perennially popular Jewish music performer Cindy Paley.

And then there’s Rick Recht, the undisputed rock star of contemporary Jewish music. His “Shalom Ba-Olam,” recorded in 1999 before a live audience of screaming teens, is the CD’s closer, and makes for a deliriously upbeat ending.

Because these songs have been around for two or even three generations, “American Jewish Summer” is an album for both today’s NFTY kids and their parents.

Not everyone had the chance to go to Ramah, Tawonga, Swig or any of the many other famous summer stomping grounds out there in the Jewish Camposphere. But for those that did, this CD should provide a comforting and tuneful déjà vu.

“American Jewish Summer: Songs of the Jewish Youth Camping Movement,” Jewish Music Group. Information:

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.