Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Sounds of our People

I grew up with a mother who loved WFMF radio in Chicago. Today we would call it “easy listening” but to mom it was the music she always loved. Henry Mancini. Mel Torme. Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme. Tony Bennet. You know, old people music – at least it was to a teenager in the 70’s.[1] Of course my music was very different. Meatloaf. Simon and Garfunkel. The Grateful Dead. Supertramp.

We both loved Debbie Friedman and Kol B’seder – two of the many amazing sources of Jewish music that started to appear in the early 70’s. If you come to services this (or any) Shabbat you are certain to hear some of their music. Each generation finds its own sound, its own beat. Our musical choices say something about us. While the sound reveals a great deal, the lyrics – the poetry – says even more.

Whenever we greet new Shinshinim – Young Israeli Emissaries – I ask them what Israeli artists they have on their playlists. I often buy the music they suggest and I listen to it for my own enjoyment and I also play it on the loudspeakers in the school as students arrive and depart for Religious School.

The poetry of Israeli music is fascinating to me. On the one hand it often reflects the current mood and reality of life in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or even in the desert. On the other hand, because bible is taught in the public schools as a source of our history, many Israeli songwriters use words and imagery that comes directly from the Torah, or the Prophets or even the Psalms. To the average Israeli, this is part of the everyday vernacular. To an American Jew who is listening to and reading the words, it is a revelation.

Sometimes we will share the lyrics in translation with our students as a way of unpacking the meaning of song. We will look at its biblical sources (if there are any) and look at how the story the song tells reflects current reality on the streets and in the homes of Israel. We use it to open a window into the lives of our cousins across the ocean.

Yuval and Rotem, our current Shinshinim, have created a bulletin board near the stairs in our school wing. You can see that it looks like a Spotify page. They introduce us to some Israeli songs and artists. It also has a special Spotify bar code. If you have Spotify on your phone you can use its scanning feature to scan the bar code. This will give you access to Yuval and Rotem’s 93 song Israeli Music playlist. I urge you to scan it and start listening. They include songs from many genres and generations of Israeli music. Get to know Shlomo Artzi, who is as big as Elton John or Paul McCartney over there – and from their generation. Or listen to Idan Reichel who brings in musicians from all over the world. Let your ears bring the sounds of Israel to you.

Scan this image from within the Spotify App to access the Playlist
The purpose of the Young Emissary program is to create a living bridge between our community and the land and people of Israel. It is a program cosponsored by all of the area synagogues and the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy. And it relies on each of us to help. Yuval and Rotem will return to Israel and begin their military service after the summer.

We will welcome new Shinshinim in September. If your community has a program like this, please think about inviting one of them to live in your home for 3 months or so. We did and we talk or text with Lidor every week. It changed us for the better. Please email, call or visit the coordinator in your community to talk about whether hosting an emissary is right for you!

[1] Full disclosure, I now love Mel Torme and most of Mom’s favorites, but I listen to it when I am alone in the car.