A burning passion



May 3, 2018

When she first heard the news reports that the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman in California lay in the path of a raging wildfire, Lucy Greenbaum joined her friends and former campers in prayer. 

Greenbaum, 20, held out hope that the camp where she spent so many summers was safe. While at her front desk internship at Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis, she heard the news last October — the camp was gone.

“The way that I process events and things are through music,” Greenbaum said. “If I’m ever having a bad day or if the world is having a bad day, I’ll go home and go into my room, shut the door and play music.”

The night brought an onset of tears and musical remedy as Greenbaum played her guitar over a Facebook livestream, her campers joining her in singing the tunes that reminded them of camp.

“It was a grieving process for me,” she said. “And I think for a lot of my campers too.”

Greenbaum dedicated her rendition of “Y’hiyu L’ratzon” to Newman. Available on iTunes and Google Play, the $150 song proceeds were donated to help rebuild her childhood camp.

And in November 2017, she created her debut album, “Sing Your Strength,” selecting four of her favorite songs and recording them through Kosher Style Records at PieTown Studios in Los Angeles. Her album is available on CD and streaming services such as Google Play, iTunes and Amazon.

The Washington University junior aspires to be a cantor someday and is well on her way. She has been connecting with students, synagogue congregants and even Jewish rock star Rick Recht through music since she was 4-years-old.

Greenbaum took piano and voice lessons, taught herself how to play guitar from YouTube videos and went through a lengthy Taylor Swift phase to develop her skills. 

After attending several Jewish music conferences, such as Songleader Boot Camp in St. Louis and Hava Nashira in Wisconsin, she launched her “Lucy Greenbaum Music” Facebook page last spring. 

“I was meeting these people from across the country who were interested in what I was doing and wanted to see more,” she said.

The lyrics of Greenbaum’s songs are infused with Jewish morals and meaning, and many of them are in Hebrew. The tunes are upbeat and uplifting, sure to make listeners sing and dance along.

Greenbaum said her Jewish values and culture not only inspire the music she creates, but the leadership positions she holds. She often leads Shabbat services and Havdalah at WashU Hillel, describing both as a “way for people to connect in college.”

And as the music director of Staam, a Hillel-affiliated Jewish a cappella group on campus, she runs rehearsals, selects the songs the group will perform and makes sure the group sounds poised to perform.

In January, she and 13 other members of Staam participated in the Jewish a cappella competition Ilu Finu in Chicago. The group submitted two original arrangements, including “Adonai S’fatai,” created by Greenbaum, and “Hashkiveinu,” created by another member of the group.

The group won first place in the liturgical piece category and received the Kavanah Award for their rendition of “Hashkiveinu.” Both of their original arrangements will be included in the first complete book of Jewish a cappella music next year.

While Greenbaum loves singing with Staam, she also shares her music through her Facebook page, posting videos of herself singing for every “Music Monday.” Some of her song choices are inspired by her campers at URJ Camp Newman. Other selections are influenced by her daily life.

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, she wrote a song based on the poem “America is a Gun.”

“As a Jewish person, I felt the need to stand up and say something about this and shock people into awareness and action,” Greenbaum said.

And her musical journey has led her to perform at the same conferences which inspired “Lucy Greenbaum Music.” She performed a mashup of “Adonai S’fatai” with Debbie Friedman’s “Hallelujah” at Songleader Boot Camp, put on by Rick Recht in February.

Greenbaum said she is excited to spend her life sharing her music with all. She will begin a cantorial internship in the fall at Congregation Shaare Emeth in St. Louis, where she will lead services, plan programs and visit people at local hospitals.

“Music is the portal through which I am able to connect to Judaism spiritually and emotionally,” she said.

— Kayla Steinberg