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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.

Carrie Newcomer: If Not Now

One of my resolutions this year is to think more about the “other”—the other person, the other point of view, the other side of the world. As you might imagine, Judaism has a lot to say about it. The great rabbi Hillel, who lived in the earliest days of the Common Era, wondered “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Folk singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer gives some hopeful answers in this number, which has become popular among many American faith communities and activist circles. “I see sorrow and trouble in this land / Although there will be struggle we’ll make the change we can.” We need to really hear these words.

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!

Song of the Day: September 18

Our last post from Cantor Joshua Breitzer!  Remember to join Josh and NYFOS for A Goyishe Christmas to You! on December 14 at HENRY’s Restaurant.  And up next week, one of NYFOS’s favorite librettists, Mark Campbell, will DJ the Song of the Day for you — stay tuned!

from Joshua Breitzer:

In the last decades Israel has become a center of intrepid musical expression, producing some of the world’s most talented artists. Leah Goldberg was one of its first national poets and Yehezkel Braun set the compositional standard for all who followed him. As we end this week focusing on Jewish song, marvel with me at the immediacy and poignancy of these songs performed at his memorial service last January.

Song of the Day: September 17

from Cantor Joshua Breitzer:

What Wolf did for German lieder, Lazar Weiner did for Yiddish art song. Over thirty years since his passing, his musical intellect and innovation continue to pique the interest of listeners and performers alike. Here he combines an important anthem from Holocaust-era ghettos and concentration camps (“I believe with perfect faith in the Messiah’s coming”) with an insistent, inexorable accompaniment that demands our attention.

Song of the Day: September 16

from Cantor Joshua Breitzer:

Yiddish theatre proved to be exceptionally fertile creative ground for newly American Jewish composers. The Ukranian-born Goldfaden, son of a watchmaker, was one of the early progenitors of the art form, and this original lullaby proved to be an instant classic. By the mid-twentieth century, acts like the Barry Sisters had brought Yiddish theatre music into the mainstream.

Song of the Day: September 15

from Cantor Joshua Breitzer:

For this second day of Rosh Hashanah, while Jews all over the world pray for a year of good health and plentiful blessing, enjoy the Turkish composer Alberto Hemsi’s arrangement of this classic Ladino folk song. “The groom doesn’t want any money – he wants a bride of good fortune!”

Song of the Day: September 14

L’shanah Tovah! We are happy to welcome Joshua Breitzer to NYFOS’s Song of the Day this week! Josh is the Cantor at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope and has joined NYFOS for its annual A Goyishe Christmas to You! concerts for the past several years with a beloved rendition of “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” sung in Yiddish. Make sure to mark your calendars for this year’s performance on Monday, December 14 at HENRY’s Restaurant!

from Joshua Breitzer:

As the Hebrew year 5776 begins, I’m honored to be curating this week’s NYFOS Song of the Day! Traditional Jewish melodies have long been sources of inspirations to composers from all corners of the world. In 1914 Maurice Ravel wrote perhaps the most famous setting of the High Holiday Kaddish (doxology) as one of Deux Mélodies Hébraïques. May Cecilia Bartoli’s exquisite rendition of it grant you a Shanah tovah umetukah – a good and sweet year! 

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