Creating Positive Memories: Rapping in the Last Three Minutes and Other Ideas in EJE

Photo courtesy Bible Raps
Photo courtesy Bible Raps

By Matt Bar

[This is the ninth and final article in an annual series written by participants and alumni of the YU Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education (EJE), highlighting EJE related ideas and practices.]

Over the last eight years at Bible Raps, we have been conducting workshops and performing for Jewish youth across North America, with the goal of utilizing the art of rap and hip hop music to impact the formation of Jewish identities. While preparing for workshops, I often find myself thinking about a TED Talk I watched during one of the seminars at YU’s Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education (EJE), in which we studied memory formation and how it relates to our practice. It was a talk by Dr. Daniel Kahneman about what he calls the Remembering Self and Experiencing Self – our actual experiences versus our memories of those experiences. The example used to illustrate this idea was about pain during colonoscopy exams. What he found was that however disagreeable the experience of a colonoscopy might be, the memory of the colonoscopy for patients was always linked to the last three minutes of the exam.

Admittedly, I feel a bit ill at ease rushing to draw comparisons between my workshops and a colonoscopy, but the point hit home for me: what happens in the last three minutes of a Bible Raps session with my students is what I know they will walk away with. It is the story that their Remembering Self will tell them about their experience with Bible Raps. To be sure, a morning spent talking Torah, composing lyrics, coming up with a catchy hook, and staging dance choreography is a struggle for the majority of students, but it’s also a lot of fun. As an educator I am acutely aware of the students’ level of interest during each of these workshops. However, what constantly makes a showing on our evaluations are the last three minutes of our sessions, when we sit down to watch the video we spent the day crafting. So, we take pains to ensure that the ‘grand finale’ of the program – while serving as a recollection of the day’s activities (the difficulties, disagreements and missteps) – is viewed through an edited video showcasing the best and most powerful cut of the rap the group produced and performed.

Over the past eight years, Bible Raps has organized upwards of 250 half ­day workshops nationally and internationally. We make use of a broad array of textual, visual, and audio approaches and often – using such different senses and modalities – makes the workshops feel disharmonious. My studies in the Certificate Program have provided welcomed constants in the form of frameworks, theories, and pedagogies in experiential education, to help give some “order” to the creative chaos of my work. In addition to the example I shared above about how the concepts of Remembering and Experiencing Selves has impacted my work, I’ve also learned that the senses are fickle things and that we can easily over stimulate them, so I try to keep no more and no less than three senses at play at any one time, viewing this number as a sweet spot for full immersion. And while my students are composing their rhymes, for example, I try to add sensual layers to the sonic textures of their writing by passing out popcorn for them to smell and taste.

Hip-hop is a genre that gives pride of place, above all else, to experimentalism. My time with EJE has given me a set of solid methodologies with which to experiment in the classroom and a more general awareness of methodology that helps me stay on the look­out for new heuristics. It is one thing to be cognizant of what is – and what is not – working in the classroom. It is an entirely different thing to read literature, to listen to podcasts, and to watch videos, all with an eye, ear, and feel for how a teacher can better shape his or her observations into novel and memorable experiences for students. Be it in workshops, lectures or performances, my time in the Certificate Program has taught me that to teach is to awaken the senses with sounds, sights, and bodily rhythms buttressed by smells and tastes. To create a positive and memorable experience in the classroom is to bring a student along on a winding journey of creation, one full of blockages and pressures though also not without moments of smooth, unencumbered progress, or Flow.

At a recent alumni gathering of the Experiential Jewish Education Network (EJEN) – a joint project of YU, HUC-JIR and JTS for graduates of experiential education training programs – I was able to bring all of my EJE learnings home by running a Bible Raps workshop for my fellow educators. During this workshop with some of my fellow alumni I saw that, not only did their raps get to the heart of EJE methodology at its best but, following Dr. Kahneman’s conclusions, by having them perform their raps at the end of the workshop, I was able to provide them with a joyful memory through which they will remember the workshop and their EJE studies.

Matt Bar is the Founding Director of Bible Raps and a graduate of the fourth cohort of the Yeshiva University Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education.

Applications for Cohort VI of the Certificate Program will be accepted through this coming Monday, March 14, 2016. For more information and to apply visit

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The YU Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education is generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation.