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“Kol Nidrei” sung by Johnny Mathis

This most iconic and instantly recognizable sacred Jewish song has had a lot of treatments over the many centuries it’s been around. While the Aramaic lyrics are quite a mouthful even for a native Hebrew speaker, a surprising number of mainstream pop singers have tried to make the prayer their own, including Al Jolson, Neil Diamond, Perry Como—and Johnny Mathis! In this revealing interview, he describes Kol Nidrei as “…so emotionally driven that I got, I would say, 95% of the words correct.” As I do my best to make this prayer my own tonight, together with cantors all over the world, I will try to remember what inspired Johnny to do the same.

Eviatar Banai: Abba (Dad)

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I think becoming a father has made me a better person in every way. It has also given me new insight into all the father figures I’ve known, and, especially at this time of year—to use appropriate prayer book parlance—into the notion of a Heavenly Father. The contemporary Israeli artist Eviatar Banai explores multiple layers of earthly and eternal fatherliness in this hit 2009 single, making for a lilting, introspective, and compelling musical experience.

Dad, I want to stand in front of you
Believe that you are a good father
Dad, I need to know you love me
Just like a good father

Dad, I want to be safe with all my heart
That this journey would be a happy ending
That everything I pass along the way
Will become a weakness for great power

Dad, I want to come back to me
Find you there with me
I’m really good at it, Dad
And there I believe in myself

*My dove on the sides of the rock
Let me hear your voice
Sing me a brand new song
Which will illuminate the very fibers of my heart.

*reference to Song of Songs 2:14

Irving Berlin: Don’t Send Me Back to Petrograd

We like to think of Irving Berlin as one of the most quintessentially American songwriters, but like so many of them, he had his roots elsewhere. He wrote this little-known tune for Fanny Brice in 1925, soon after legislation had been passed placing quotas on immigration. In this live recording by the incomparable Judy Blazer and NYFOS’s own Michael Barrett, listen for lyrics like “There’s millions of people on the shore / Why can’t you make room for just one more” and marvel at how relevant Berlin’s piece still is.

Joey Weisenberg: Nachamu Nigun

The High Holy Days have arrived yet again, the busiest time of a cantor’s year. I find that a song without words (Hebrew: nigun) puts my heart and mind at ease more than any other. When composing this one, my friend and teacher Joey Weisenberg was inspired by the famous phrase in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye” (Hebrew: nachamu). Although the melody seemed ironically discomforting the first time I heard it, by the second and third times through I found myself completely entranced. I hope you will too!

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