Hashem’s My DJ: Summer Camp Piloting Rapping-Rebbe/Beat-Midrash Program

By Matt Bar and Brent Osborne

Hip Hop Education has become an ever-growing popular movement today. Teachers all over the globe have begun infusing hip-hop and rap into their classrooms in an effort to engage their students in a unique way.

Due to its cultural relevance to today’s youth, hip-hop is a powerful tool that can be used to teach everything from English to algebra and even Jewish concepts.

Celebrating over a decade of teaching Torah through hip hop and rap in religious school classrooms and synagogues across the country, Bible Raps aims to make 2018 the year in which the concept of using hip-hop to engage young people reaches a critical mass at Jewish Summer Camps.

Executive Director and Founder of Bible Raps Matt Bar is setting out on a camp tour this summer, engaging campers of all ages in Jewish concepts, texts and culture through a new program called The Beat Midrash.

“The Beat Midrash is how Bible Raps replicates our most successful program which has participants study text and then create a rap and music video about the lesson,” Matt explains. “We have done this workshop over 550 times over the past ten years in classroom settings and we’re looking forward to translating our successful workshop to thrive in a camp setting. As Mr. Miaggi would say, ‘If done right; no can defend.’”

This past summer, Matt piloted the program thanks to the support of the Foundation for Jewish Camp / Avi Chai Foundation’s Innovation grant. “I’ve identified an untapped talent pool for Torah transmission: young Jewish rappers who are fluent in Hip Hop culture who work at camp,” Matt said. “Many have the skills to drop a great Torah Rap during Shabbat services like a Song-leader. It is our goal to work with these staff and provide them intensive training on how to create their own hip-hop studio at camp.”

Bible Raps has created an intensive curriculum that will allow camp staff to create a Torah Rap Factory, giving campers the opportunity to evaluate and study the Torah in a new light. “The new ropes-course will be Bible Raps’ The Beat Midrash,” Matt said jokingly.

Bible Raps already has 4 different camps with a talented counselor ready to be trained to be “Rap Rebbes.” With support from their camp directors, the camp staff are charged and eager to produce exceptional Torah learning experiences all summer long for their campers.

This past summer, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp welcomed Bible Raps to camp. Gabe Wulfson, a counselor at JCC Maccabi Sports Camp with Matt’s guidance produced the video “Sandy Koufax: Best Jewish Athlete Since Sampson.” Gabe is just one of the notably exceptional counselors untapped at camp eager to make text learning a fun, chill, powerful part of camps’ programing.

“We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to engage our campers in Jewish learning,” says Brent Osborne, Program Director at JCC Maccabi Sports Camp. “Bible Raps allows our campers to use their creativity to retell a story about an important Jewish concept or idea.”

“The thing is, as bad a reputation as rap and hip-hop get, our campers are enthusiastically soaking it up,” Brent continues. “So, if we are able to meet our campers where they are, Jewish hip hop provides us the opportunity to reach our campers in a different way, outside of the normal scope of Jewish programing at camp.”

The Beat Midrash is just one of the new exciting programs that is underway at Bible Raps. Bible Raps will be hosting its second annual Hip Hop Educator Retreat in Philadelphia, PA in March working with Philadelphia’s African American Museum (more information here). And recently, Bible Raps started a podcast series called Rappers and Rabbis that is co-produced with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Recently, Number 4 on the iTunes charts for Judaism, The podcast features the illustrious Rabba Yaffa Epstein as one of the hosts for a bi-weekly hip hop havruta-style Torah conversation with a rotating cast of Pardes alumni and holy MCs. You can listen to the podcast here.

Camps interested in bringing Bible Raps to their summer home in 2018 can contact Matt Bar at matt@bibleraps.com.

Additionally, with all this action Bible Raps is actively seeking to organize a Board of Directors to launch the nonprofit organization into the next decade. If you or someone you know someone who is passionate about Jewish education and would be a great board member, please contact Matt.

Matt Bar, The songwriter who raps, is the Founder of Bible Raps.

Brent Osborne is a Jewish Educator and a summer camp enthusiast. He currently serves as the Program Director at JCC Maccabi Sports Camp in San Francisco, California and sits on the Board of Directors for Bible Raps.