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?
Jewish Music Resources
Rabbi Tom offers a growing library of Jewish songs (https://mcjconline.org/category/jewishmusic/) to help you choose. Visit often to check out new videos.
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.