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Howard Ashman and Alan Menken: Be Our Guest

Though Sukkot continues for another few days, Moses and Miriam have burst onto the scene for day 5, providing a musical climax to our journey of songs which evoke the presence of sacred Jewish ancestors. These two siblings lead the Israelites in celebrating their freedom from Egypt on the other side of the sea, and I don’t know of a song that encapsulates singing, dancing, company, and cookery quite as well as this showstopper from the 1991 Disney animated classic. Even the worrywart clock Cogsworth gets swept up in the revelry by the end, thereby proving that when you do Sukkot right, as with any festive occasion, time ought to stand still. Chag sukkot sameiach!

“Be Our Guest” (Beauty and the Beast) by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, sung by Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury and ensemble

Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack: My Yiddishe Momme

Jacob’s true love Rachel and favored child Joseph arrive just in time for the fourth day of Sukkot. Unlike our previous pairs this week, these two are mother and son, and are absolutely crying out for this vaudeville classic to be featured today. After combing through all the versions out there online, Leo Fuld’s beautifully sung 1956 cover comes to the fore for me. His Dutch-accented English and authentically articulated Yiddish perfectly capture the mixture of adoration, nostalgia, and sincerity that the number truly demands.

“My Yiddishe Momme” by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack, sung by Leo Fuld

Doron Medalie and Stav Berger: Toy

On the third day of Sukkot, Jews welcome the spirits of Jacob and his first wife Leah, the “baby momma” for most of his children and older sister of his true love Rachel (who visits us tomorrow). Rabbinic and scholarly commentaries across the centuries are rife with interpretations about Jacob’s relationship with his wives. One of the most radical contemporary versions comes in the midst of Anita Diamant’s 1994 novel The Red Tent, which casts Jacob as a smooth-talking, very virile Casanova, a bonafide “boy toy.” A similar sort of man is the focus of the singer’s ire in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest’s winning tune, which also takes the “cuckold” concept to a bold new extreme. Enjoy!

“Toy” by Doron Medalie and Stav Berger, sung by Netta Barzilai

Alicia Keys: Fallin’

Isaac and Rebekah, the ushpizin (sacred ancestral spirits) Jews welcome on the second day of Sukkot, are notorious for the all-too human dimensions of their relationship. The Torah describes Rebekah atop a camel, beautifully dressed, on her way to meet Isaac for the first time. She is so smitten by him that she falls off the camel, a veritable victim of love at first sight. Years of marriage apparently take their toll, such that when their twin sons Esau and Jacob grow up, she encourages the younger Jacob to cheat the birthright blessing out of her aged, blinded husband. It’s all too easy to draw parallels between the dysfunction of their true love and that of our favorite 21st century celebrity couples, who “keep on fallin’ in and out of love” just as Alicia Keys sings about in her 2001 breakout hit.

Jacob Rappaport: Eilu D’varim

This week, Jewish communities all over the world are exhaling, having made it to the end of the High Holiday season. Today begins Sukkot, an eight-day festival filling a number of purposes: the Biblical account of surviving 40 years in the wilderness; the bounty of the fall harvest; and, perhaps most importantly, the miracle of life in all its fragile, temporal beauty. We build wooden huts covered with tree boughs and welcome in all sorts of guests for meals, merriment, and maybe even a sleepover. The Kabbalistic-minded among us even welcome in the spirits of our ancestors, called ushpizin, a different couple each day. On this first day of Sukkot, we welcome Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, whose tent was open on all four sides and whose legendary hospitality sets the best example I know of how best to welcome guests. It’s a great mitzvah, of course, and it’s listed among “things without measure” in this classic cantorial setting of a Talmudic text equating all the most important mitzvot to Torah study, “which is equal to them all because it leads to them all.”

“Eilu D’varim” (These Are the Things) by Jacob Rappaport, sung by Mordechai Hershman

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