When people ask me what I’m doing this summer, I always smile, shake my head, and laugh a little. Not because I don’t want to tell them, but because it’s kind of hard to explain. A few people have even asked, “So you’re going around the country to wrap Bibles? Like at bookstores?” It’s a logical thing to assume when I say “I’m touring with Bible Raps this summer.”
The Bible Raps Project is a unique teaching tool that uses rap to engage students in Torah stories and Jewish values. It was founded by Matt Barr in 2007, when he found he could get his Hebrew school students excited about learning by rapping with them. Bible Raps has two main components: a song Toolkit and workshops. Matt created a Toolkit revolving around songs that he has written. (Listen to an example from an upcoming album. Each song has a “rap-map” showing how specific lines connect to passages in the Torah and midrashim (commentary). Hundreds of teachers currently use the Toolkit in their classrooms.
Bible Raps also travels around the world creating original raps with students of all ages. Students learn a few Jewish texts about a core topic and then split into groups to write. They then record their song, which is professionally mixed, and film an accompanying video. In the end they can be proud of the work of art they created. Students are able to take ownership of their history and pride in their community by rapping the words they have written. I saw this model at work when I was a counselor at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, GA. In this video, it’s clear to see how excited these girls are. (I was there for the outdoor performance, it was awesome! )
As education coordinator on Hillel Board, I was able to bring Bible Raps to Brandeis for a weekend. They taught about the Toolkit, did some concerts, and then hosted a Brandeis workshop about Tu B’shvat, the “birthday” of the trees. We had so much fun writing and recording, and what we made is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself! In the middle of it all, I went up to Matt and said, half-jokingly, “Do you need an intern this summer?” To my surprise, he said yes, and after a few months of emails and phone calls, here I am!
Last week I spent a few days at Matt’s home in Philadelphia. Bible Raps doesn’t have a physical office space, but we decided it would be productive to have some in-person training before we take off for the summer. I had no idea that so much goes in to this project: grant writing, managing contacts, fundraising, booking tours, as well as writing and recording, and I got a crash course in all of those things. I learned how to use a Tascam pocket recorder that will be on the road with us.
I also helped begin a “how-to” guide for running the workshop, which will be turned into a fully-fledged user’s manual over the summer. My other responsibilities this summer include working on a fundraising campaign for the new album, helping with grant writing, and documenting the tour. In two weeks we head out on the road to our first stop at my old camp, Ramah Darom, where we’ll have a whole week of workshopping, performing, and writing. See you from the road!
– Eliana Light ’13