As told to Sam Kricsfeld, writer in the Hillel International Writers Program.
“Music has been something that I’ve been around since I was little, always playing in my house and on drives. It was important for me to have some sort of musical outlet to express creativity, and that came into fruition with the way that I learned to play guitar and now sing on a semi-professional level. Here I am studying vocal music and musicology at Drake University.
When I was 14, I was asked to go to Rick Recht’s song leader boot camp. From then on, I began teaching at my synagogue’s religious school as the music teacher. I ended up doing work with both NFTY and BBYO.
Music has always gone hand in hand with my Jewish identity. I’m a classical singer, and over the last couple of years, I’ve been adding Jewish repertoire to my list. Some of it comes from liturgical sources, but I’ve also been singing in Yiddish a little bit. Hebrew and Yiddish music is informing a lot of my thesis studies.
With Drake Hillel, I’ve led Shabbat services. This year I led Rosh Hashanah services and the Passover Seder. At the Seder this year, I ended up leading everything that had a little bit of music in it – Avadim Hayyinu, Birkat Hamazon, and the fun songs at the end like ‘Echad mi Yodea?’ and ‘Chad Gadya.’ Getting [people] to sing these words that have been traditional across many decades was really phenomenal.
I think a lot of people find their connection to Judaism through music, including myself. I think inserting music into Hillel programming is one nice way that we can combine Judaism and music.”
What’s really special about Drake Hillel is that we’ve become a really tight-knit community. Our Hillel has really allowed us to get to know each other and to become part of each other’s families. I love being able to grab a coffee or just hang out with members of Hillel – they’re a really great group of people.” — Benjamin Brodkey, Vice President of Drake University Hillel