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Jewish Music, Memory and Identity
All music is soul music, an expression of someone’s soul, and Jewish music is no exception. It expresses the Jewish soul, the joy, sadness, hope, longing, aspiration, anticipation, fun, excitement and love that flows from a Jewish life.
Music is one of those things that like the aromas of food stimulates emotion and memory, as Stuart Stott expresses in his song, Music in My Mother’s House:
“There were wind chimes in the window. Bells inside the clock.
An organ in the corner and tunes on a music box.
We sang while we were cooking or working in the yard.
We sang because our lives were really hard.
“There was music in my mother’s house.
There was music all around.
There was music in my mother’s house.
And my heart’s still full with the sound…”
One of the best ways to create warm Jewish memories with your children is to fill your home with Jewish music in all its variety. For children, the simple words and melodies of songs are a key: sing your children to sleep, sing with them, sing while you’re cooking or working in the yard. Sing at Shabbat dinner — sing at any meal! Sing in the shower, sing while you’re carpooling, sing while you’re cleaning the house, stop for a song break while you’re helping with homework. If someone plays piano or guitar or another instrument, try learning a Jewish song to share with the family.
Jewish Song-of-the-Week (or month)
Here’s a good way to get started: choose a Jewish Song-of-the-Week (or month) to learn and sing to each other or sing together any chance you have.
Decide how you’ll choose a song. Will each person in the family take a turn finding something to share with the others? Will each person bring a suggestion to the table and the family vote on one for the current choice?
The Chicago area is home to some wonderful Jewish musicians, and you’ll have a chance to hear and learn from many of them at the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival this summer, Sunday, June 10, 11 am – 6 pm at St. Paul Woods, Cook County Forest Preserve.
In the meantime, you can check out some of our own Chicago Jewish musicians on their websites: Listen Up! Jewish A Cappella, The Maxwell St. Klezmer Band and Tum Balalaika, Shakshuka and Kol Sasson just to name a very few.
Be sure to check out Jewish Rock Radio for contemporary and up-and-coming Jewish music for all ages.
The Klezmer Music Foundation, created by Chicagoan Lori Lippitz, encourages young people to engage through their outreach program to schools and other venues. The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago offers performances and programs on aspects of Jewish music, and for any who really want to get into it (or have a school paper to write and want an interesting topic), the Asher Library is an extraordinary local resource.
Did you know The Chicago Public Library has a Jewish Music Archive? And it’s a cool place to visit as a family as well!
Of course we all know about resources like iTunes and Pandora.
YouTube features lots of videos when you search on things like “Jewish songs,” “Israeli songs,” “Jewish children’s songs,” “Jewish holiday songs,” “Jewish songs in English,” or “Shabbat songs.”
Make searching and learning a fun family activity as you discover ways to enrich the Jewish soul of your home.
When you sensitize your ears, you’ll start to find music coming from so many places. Don’t be surprised if your kids start to sing snippets of tunes they hear in synagogue alongside your Jewish-Song-of-the-Week (or month). You can be sure they’ll remember the Jewish songs you sing together as warmly as the aromas of Jewish foods you share.
Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? You never know what you might discover on the way to locating “the” treasure. What if you discover more treasures in your life than you ever imagined possible?
So try searching for your Jewish treasures. There are no rules about what a “Jewish” treasure is. The only rule is that you tell the rest of your family why the treasures you find are Jewish for you. Of course some of us will immediately find a kiddush cup and think of Shabbat meals. Or a picture that reminds us of a trip to Israel. But what if a pitcher’s glove immediately makes you think and feel, “Jewish?” That’s great! Just tell us why. Why does that pitcher’s glove make you think…”Jewish?”
So here’s one way you can search for your Jewish treasures. At a family dinner, let everyone in your home know they have a week to find their Jewish treasures. Plan to share your treasures with each other at a family dinner a week later and tell each other why these items feel or say “Jewish” to you, the memories or thoughts you associate with them.
What about centering your search around Shabbat meals, sharing your treasures around a Shabbat table at home or Friday evening at MCJC?
If you’d like to share your discoveries with your MCJC community, we’d love to publish them in our MCJC blog. Write up everyone’s contributions and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jennifer Schwartz, MCJC Religious School Lead Teacher
One of my favorite memories is finding the chametz before Pesach with my Papa. We would hide small chunks of bread throughout the house on napkins; then we’d take a flashlight and go back through for a seek-and-destroy mission. The chunks of bread would be swept into a paper bag and taken to our local shul to be burned the next day.
Why not start this tradition with your own family? Customarily, the search for chametz (leavened food forbidden duing Passover) in the home is done with a beeswax candle, a wooden spoon, and a paper bag for collection. Before collection, “hide” ten small pieces of bread throughout the house, wrapped in or on something flammable (no aluminum foil here guys). The hiding doesn’t even have to be done the day of the search! Hide them before and adults can write down where they are, just in case. Make it a real mission for the kiddos!
The evening before Pesach, say the following prayer:
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai
E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam
A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-tav
Ve-tzi-va-nu Al Bee-ur Cha-metz.
Or, in translation:
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.
Next, have someone hold the lit candle and find all the hidden chametz, even ones you didn’t hide but you might just find! The wooden spoon can be used to sweep the chametz into the bag. Once you’ve completed the search, gather the search party back together and recite the Kol Chamira:
All leaven or anything leavened which is in my possession, which I have neither seen nor removed, and of which I am unaware, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.
After this declaration is recited, all unknown chametz in your home will be considered nullified. Your bag is now safe to be destroyed.
Chag pesach sameach and happy searching!