LABA House of Study is a program housed at the 14th Street Y, where artists of all types gather to study Jewish texts and create new works based upon them. They publish a bimonthly journal, put on live performances and generally inform and inspire everything that happens at the 14th Street Y. The spirit and influence of LABA/rts extends to the Y’s camp program at the HKC’s Staten Island Campgrounds, New Country Day Camp. Except here, the campers themselves are the artists and scholars. It’s not as stuffy as it may sound, we promise. This is still summer camp.
“It’s a lot of storytelling,” says camp director Jenni Hussell. “We tell them stories, they tell us stories.” Many tales this summer centered on the character Honi ha-M’agel, or Honi the Circle-maker, a 1st century BC scholar. The stories told sometimes came from the Jewish tradition, but sometimes stretched to include aspects of world folklore and pop culture, such as the one in which a stressed-out Honi asks all the animals of the jungle for advice, and eventually comes to the conclusion that sometimes he just needs to “Let It Go,” which ties into a choreographed dance to the hit song from Disney’s Frozen.
Each year, the LABA collective’s study revolves around a theme. The camp follows suit, telling stories relating to that same theme. This year’s, for instance is “mother,” or more generally, “family.” “We’re looking at it really expansively,” says LABA/rts and Greening coordinator Ari Cameron. “To think about our camp family, our family as the ecosystem, and thinking about how we are interconnected.” One weekly theme, for instance, was “learning from the little things.” Campers were told a story in which Honi learns from an ant. Elsewhere, in the environment-conscious Greening unit, the kids did “tree interviews,”
in which they examined trees in detail – the animals living in them, the moss growing on their trunks.
Some of these stories may be thousands of years old, but if anyone’s found a way to make them relevant to today’s kids, LABA/rts may be it.