Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Designed to bring the richness of Jewish wisdom, history and traditions to life through original albums, the creation of student-generated rap songs and eye-catching music videos, Bible Raps aims to educate and inspire Jewish children, teenagers and adults to see Judaism as a living and breathing experience, fostering a generation of young adults that self identify with Jewish wisdom and heritage. We use hip-hop, the genre of the youth, as well as cutting edge technology and culture to revitalize classic texts of the past, making text-based education relevant and exciting.
Over the past 9 years, we have had the opportunity to work with countless schools and youth groups, organizations, and camps, and each workshop provides a unique opportunity to explore an aspect of Jewish wisdom. With over 400 workshops under our belt, we create source sheets focused on individual pieces of Jewish wisdom or concepts to guide the rap creation from our participants. And our performances are steeped in the Jewish wisdom of biblical stories and commentary. In the past year, some of our highlights have been:
* “Work it and protect it” - The Jewish wisdom surrounding environmentalism that led to many songs that explore the tension between working the land while at the same time giving it respect and treating it with reverence.
* Lithuanian commentator, the GR”A, defines Gimilut Hasidim (acts of loving kindness) as “Something that you are not obligated to give to another, yet you give anyway out of your own kindness.” - a group of Hebrew high schoolers used this piece of Jewish wisdom as the basis for an appreciation rap to their teachers.
* The concept of Koach HaDibbur (the power of the word) was the theme used for a culminating rap from a collaboration between Bible Raps and ShalomLearning’s online curriculum.
* “Every generation must look upon himself as if they left Egypt with everybody else” - The Jewish wisdom concept from the Exodus that we used as the guiding principle to create a rap music video which accumulated over 12,000 combined views on Facebook and YouTube.
Our workshops use a familiar language of the youth - hip hop - to make Jewish wisdom accessible and directly applicable to our audience’s lives by encouraging them to take the texts and concepts we teach and apply them to their personal experiences through the creation of an original rap song. Because rap requires a potent degree of authenticity (“keep it real” is the motto) in its delivery, our participants bring their whole selves to their studies with us during the workshops and internalize not only their lyrics but the concepts we teach when they write, and then perform, their original creation.
By helping the students translate the Jewish wisdom we are studying into modern day applications directly related to their lives, the learning and concepts become relevant to the participants as they connect, say, the teachings of Cain and Abel to a personal argument they may have had with their sibling. By writing a rap about both the biblical story and its teachings as well as their relationship with their sibling, they apply the concept and internalize its message in a way that often doesn’t occur in traditional learning.
The virtual workshop is an impactful model for those students who are often disinterested in traditional Hebrew and religious school learning. By taking the few self-selecting kids out of their classroom environment and allowing them to work with the virtual teacher, they not only receive specialized attention and instruction in a space they are enjoying, but the native teacher is left with a classroom comprised of eager learners in their home environment. One teacher whose kids participated in our virtual workshop said, “The kids LOVED the video!! We watched it several times. They are excited for their parents to see it!!! Other kids wanted to make one also. Thank you for working with us!”, and the education director from that school shared, “Wow I AM SPEECHLESS THIS IS AMAZING!! I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE IT WITH THE BOARD AND OUR FAMILIES!"
Our workshops, from which the virtual workshop was born, have similar longstanding impact, as can be seen from our survey results, polling students as much as one year after they participated in our workshops. [See supporting materials for full results.] Some highlights include:
87% Shared the rap they wrote with a friend after they received the final product
80% Remembered some or most of the workshop lessons after at least ONE YEAR
89% Were motivated to seek out other Jewish music because of our workshop
With the Virtual Workshop, we seek to replicate these results, but with a tenfold reach, given the online nature of the program.
We have found that viewing Jewish wisdom through the prism of hip hop brings it current to present day and shines a light on its relevance for our participants to internalize it as it relates to their daily lives. Our success stems from marrying the oral tradition with the tenets of hip hop, which revitalizes the content we teach to our audience by putting it in a contemporary idiom. This makes Jewish wisdom more relevant and memorable to our participants than traditional methods.
Finding a way to contemporize these ancient concepts, tenets and teachings, is what makes Bible Raps, and the Virtual Workshop, successful. Without the connection to the present day, we would be hard pressed to find a connection point for our participants to be able to put so much of themselves into their original raps while still retaining such a high level of understanding of the pieces of Jewish wisdom we are applying.
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