Winter blessings to a medieval carol tune

Several years ago, Ethan and I saw Richard Thompson and his merry band (the acoustic version thereof) perform a 1000 Years of Popular Music show at the Iron Horse. One of my favorite tracks from that night was a medieval Scots carol called "Remember O Thou Man," often attributed to Thomas Ravenscroft, though Ravenscroft may only have collected or updated it -- some suggest it predates him, too.

Richard told us that night that this melody is often considered to be the source of what we now know as God Save the Queen, though this carol is in a minor key whereas that anthem is in a major one. (The footnotes to that Wikipedia entry on "God Save the Queen" confirm that this is a popular theory, though no one seems to be able to prove it one way or another.)

Anyway, the melody stuck with me. I love it. Here, watch Richard and two friends play "Remember O Thou Man" in the back of a English taxicab:

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it at YouTube.)

I associate this melody with the darkening days of deep autumn turning toward winter. Maybe because I first heard it in early November. Maybe because the original lyrics have a kind of wintery darkness to them -- "Remember, o thou man, thy time is spent..."

It ocurred to me, one cold and rainy day earlier this fall, that I might see if this melody works for any of the blessings of my winter season. (This isn't my first experiment with setting Hebrew words to Richard Thompson's melodies -- see A Richard Thompson Modah Ani.) So I tried putting the Chanukah candle blessing to this tune. You have to slightly rush a few of the words, but it works reasonably well:




I tried, also, setting the Shehecheyanu -- the blessing sanctifying time, which is recited on the first night of Chanukah -- to this melody, and it worked perfectly. (No elision or rushing necessary.) So maybe this melody works better for the Shehecheyanu than it does for Chanukah candles. Here it is:




I'm not sure how actually useful this is -- what are the odds that anyone reading this will want to sing either the Chanukah blessings, or the shehecheyanu, to a medieval Scots melody? -- but I figured I'd share, just for kicks. Chanukah is approaching (we light the first candle on the night of December 8), so the timing seemed appropriate. Enjoy!


Brich Rachamana (now: with sheet music!)

Some years ago I posted about Brich Rachamana -- a one-line grace after meals which derives from Talmud, and for which I have learned two different melodies over my years in Jewish Renewal circles. In that 2008 post I shared simple recordings of both melodies -- Hazzan Jack Kessler's round (I offered one recording of the melody by itself, and another recording which shows how it works as a round) and also the tune borrowed from the Shaker hymn "Sanctuary."

I always wanted to share sheet music, for those who learn better by reading music than by hearing a tune. It's only taken 4+ years, but I finally have the capability of creating very simple sheet music. So, with no further ado, here are the two melodies for Brich Rachamana! (For reasons I don't wholly understand, there's white space at the bottom of each image which I can't seem to crop; apologies for the empty space on the page.) Feel free to use/share/teach these melodies if they speak to you.

Continue reading "Brich Rachamana (now: with sheet music!)" »

Music for the Days of Awe at CBI

Two years ago, when I first served as cantorial soloist at my shul alongside my friend and colleague Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser ("Reb Jeff"), we put together a cd of some of the melodies we'd be using during the chagim and shared the cd with our membership.

People seemed to like it. So I did it again last year. And I'm doing it a third time this year -- this time in consultation with my friend David Curiel, an ALEPH rabbinic student who will serve as our cantorial soloist for this year's Days of Awe.

We haven't burned the cds yet, but this year I'm also trying something new: putting all sixteen tracks online so that they can be either streamed (using the embedded audio player) or downloaded (if you want them on your own computer or iPod or what-have-you.)

This year's cds features a few old favorites (among them recordings of me singing "Achat Sha'alti" and Barbra Streisand singing Max Janowski's setting for "Avinu Malkeinu") and a few things which are new (the "Modeh Ani" chant written by our hazzan David Curiel, and Shir Yaakov's beautiful new setting for Rabbi Rami Shapiro's "We Are Loved," recorded at Romemu -- among others.)

If you're interested, you can find our Days of Awe playlist for 5773 / 2012 online at my From the Rabbi blog: Music for the Days of Awe. Feel free to listen, download, share at will! The High Holidays are just short of six weeks away...

Morning prayers in the car

"How about a cd, mommy?" says Drew in the car. "How about the orange one! How about Shawn!"

"The orange one" and "Shawn" mean the same thing: Morning I Will Seek You, by my friend and teacher Shawn Zevit. I like to listen to it in the mornings on the way to daycare and then to work, and apparently so does Drew. (The physical cd itself has an orange face, if that weren't clear.)

I like beginning my day with prayer. Modah ani l'fanecha -- I am grateful before You, living and enduring God; You have restored my soul to me, great is Your faithfulness. (I've written about that prayer before.) Halleli nafshi et Adonai -- my soul sings out to God, I will sing to God with my very life... (That's the first two verses of psalm 146.)

That verse from psalms came up in spiritual direction recently. I was bemoaning the reality that I still don't manage daily liturgical prayer as reliably or wholly as I wish I did, as I feel I ought to. My mashpi'ah gently reminded me of this verse, and it was a revelation. Of course! I will sing to God b'chayyai, with my life. My life is the song I sing to God; that's what I should be aspiring to. It's okay if that song doesn't always take the classical full-text liturgical forms.

Drew is at a moment in his life where he doesn't often want me to sing to him, unless I'm singing the alphabet song or "twinkle twinkle little star" or "Old McDonald had a farm." The one exception is at bedtime; he lets me sing our bedtime songs every night, curled for one delicious moment into my arms. But otherwise, when I sing -- whether it's the morning prayer for gratitude, or the Shabbat blessings -- he shushes me and tells me firmly to stop.

But apparently he doesn't mind listening to Shawn sing. I'm grateful for that! And I trust that in time, I'll be able to teach Drew some of the melodies I love best for the prayers I try to weave into my every day.

Ana b'Koach / Untie our Tangles (a melody for the Omer count)

The words of "Ana B'Koach" in Hebrew and transliteration.

Back in 2010, I posted about a prayer called Ana B'Koach:

My friend Reb David Seidenberg calls Ana B'Koach  one of the 'masterpieces of mystical prayer.' (Here's the NeoHasid page on Ana B'Koach, which features some explanation, some history, and the words of the prayer in Hebrew, transliteration, and English.) I first encountered this prayer when I started hanging around in Jewish Renewal circles. It's a favorite prayer in that community because of Renewal's neo-Hasidic roots.

Nowhere in the prayer do any traditional names of God appear -- but the prayer itself is considered to be one long name of God, which is why it ends with the line "baruch shem k'vod malchuto l'olam va'ed," "Blessed is God's glorious kingdom forever and ever" (or, in Reb Zalman's translation, "Through time and space, Your glory shines, Majestic One.")

In his book All Breathing Life (which I posted about a while back) Reb Zalman writes that "[This prayer] is considered by many to be a very potent passkey that takes our prayers directly to God, even when other avenues are blocked," he writes. It's also traditional, as NeoHasid notes, to sing this prayer every day after counting the Omer.

Here's Reb Zalman's translation, which can be found in All Breathing Life. It's singable to the same melody as the Hebrew. Like Reb Zalman, I like to sing it using the melody which comes from the Rhiziner Rebbe (the great-grandson of Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid or 'storyteller' of Mezritch).

Source of Mercy,
With loving strength
Untie our tangles.

Your chanting folk
Raise high, make pure
Accept our song.

Like Your own eye,
Lord, keep us safe
Who union seek with You!

Cleanse and bless us
Infuse us ever
With loving care.

Gracious source
Of holy power!
Do guide Your folk.

Sublime and holy One,
Do turn to us
Of holy chant.

Receive our prayer
Do hear our cry
Who secrets knows.

Through time and space
Your glory shines,
Majestic One.

(There's a more traditional translation alongside the Hebrew text at NeoHasid's Ana B'Khoach liturgy page.) You can hear Reb Zalman singing this chant to the Rizhyner's melody here at this compilation of melodies from All Breathing Life. And if you're so inclined, you can listen to me singing it, too -- I sing the first and last verses in Hebrew, and the remainder in English.


I love the idea of praying these words during the Omer journey. Spending these seven weeks contemplating God's qualities (of lovingkindness, boundaries and strength, balance, endurance, humble splendor, foundation / rootedness, and sovereignty) inevitably means also contemplating the ways in which these qualities do or don't manifest in us. It's easy to come away feeling tangled. This prayer reminds us that God can help us unsnarl our internal emotional and spiritual knots.


(This is cross-posted to the CBI From the Rabbi blog, since this melody is going to be our Song for the Month next month. To anyone who reads both blogs, apologies for the repeat!)

Three melodies for the Order of the Seder

In honor of Pesach being just around the corner, I wanted to share a few Pesach melodies. Specifically, here are three different melodies one can use for singing the order of the seder. You probably know already that the word "seder" means order, from the Hebrew לסדר / l'sader, "to arrange." And there's a set order to the proceedings: fifteen steps from beginning to end.

Why fifteen? Fifteen were the steps up to the Temple, once upon a time, which were understood to correspond to 15 songs of ascent found in psalms. The Hebrew number fifteen can be spelled either as ט''ו / 9+6 or as י''ה / 10+5 -- and that latter spelling also spells "Yah," a name of God. The folks at note that "The Sages say that Passover occurs on the 15th of Nissan (the Jewish month), to teach us that just as the moon waxes for 15 days, so too our growth must be in 15 gradual steps. Think of these as 15 pieces of the Passover puzzle." To me, the fifteen steps of the seder are like gates through which we pass on the evening's spiritual journey: from kadesh, kicking things off by reciting the kiddush and thereby sanctifying time, all the way to nirtzah, the seder's conclusion.

In recent years I've borrowed a custom I learned from Hazzan Jack Kessler and Rabbi Marcia Prager at the seder they led at Elat Chayyim some years ago. In my seder, as we reach each of these gates, we sing through the 15 steps (start to finish), and then sing the melody again, as far as whererever we are on the journey. So the first time we do it, we sing all fifteen steps, and then just sing the first one. The second time, it's all fifteen and then the first two. Then all fifteen and the first three. And so on. It can be hard to remember to stop singing, especially as the evening's four glasses of wine are consumed, so hilarity sometimes ensues!

Anyway, the melody I use for that practice is this one. I don't know its origin, but here you go:

Order of the seder

The second melody I want to offer is the one I learned as a child. This is the one I used to sing at seder with my family when I was a kid. Alas, I don't know its provenance either, but I like it:

Order of the seder - from my childhood


And the third melody I have to offer is the melody for the hymn "Sanctuary." (I've shared it here before -- for a post on Brich Rachamana.) Here's how the order of the seder can be sung to that tune:

Order of the seder - to Sanctuary


If any of these melodies speak to you, please feel free to take them and use them in your seder this year. (And if you use a different melody for this part of the seder, feel free to record it and leave a link here, or point to it on YouTube if you can find it there -- I'm always interested in different ways of singing familiar words...)


Interview with Linda Hirschhorn now in Zeek

Two years-and-a-bit ago, at the ALEPH Kallah in Ohio, I had the opportunity to sing with Linda Hirschhorn. While I was there, I interviewed her for Zeek. (I mentioned that in one of my blog posts from the conference that year: Kallah, another day in the life.) For reasons which don't bear exploration at this juncture, the interview has just now been published! Hopefully it's timeless enough to still make good reading.

Here's a taste:

(From my introduction) A lover of Talmud and a college philosophy major, Hirschhorn sees polyvocal harmonies as emblematic of the same kind of diversity-within-unity found in the pages of Jewish sacred texts. She believes that different voices blending together in harmony is not only a metaphor for, but an example of, the kind of coexistence the world needs. And after a few hours singing under her enthusiastic tutelage, I’m inclined to think that she’s right...

LH: Harmony is like drash. Singing a song simply is like pshat; harmonies give you the chance to interpret text. If you hear a lyric, especially sung in counterpoint, the words coming at a different time, you’ll get a different experience of what the words might mean, what’s important. Major or minor, syncopated or lullaby: those communicate so much. It’s important to understand the text, to try to find how my song matches my understanding of the text.


LH: Everybody has some kernel that’s uniquely their own that they can offer. The best of my songs are something which cuts deeper, which looks at a universal experience in a particular way.

Read the whole thing at Zeek: In Song Together.

Chanukah remixed

Last year around this time, Tablet magazine put out Anander Mol, Anander Veig / Another Time, Another Way, an online album (free for download) of remixes in celebration of Chanukah. Marc Weidenbaum writes:

They are a people, albeit a diverse and dispersed one, spread throughout the world, separated by geography and language, yet still connected through a rich and shared cultural lineage.

I'm speaking, of course, about remixers.

Remixers are electronic musicians who take a pre-existing piece of recorded music and turn it into something else, sometimes something else entirely. They delight in finding choice moments in the original and rearranging what was there until it resembles the source material yet feels wholly new, wholly its own.

As Hanukkah approached this year, I sent a note to various remixers, asking if they’d be interested in selecting a holiday staple, or a song from another festive Jewish event, and taking a stab at remixing it. The response was swift, strong, and positive—as was the supportive response from the musicians and bands who had recorded the originals from which the remixers would subsequently work.

I'm a big fan of remix (it's a form of transformative work which often works well for me), so I thought this was pretty neat. You can listen to the entire album track by track, or download individual tracks or the whole album in one go, at Tablet magazine. Chag sameach / happy holiday to you!

Contemplative chant-based Shabbat

This coming Shabbat morning, we're trying something new at my shul -- a contemplative chant-based Shabbat morning service. (What do I mean by that? Learn more.) This is a kind of davenen I discovered when I first encountered Jewish Renewal; it is one of many different modes of Jewish prayer, and it is one that I particularly love. I don't think we've ever done a service quite like this one at my shul, so it will be a new experience for most of our daveners. I'm looking really forward to it.

I've recorded about a dozen short chants which we'll be using in our Shabbat morning prayer next week. The chants follow the classical matbeah tefilah, the flow / structure of the morning liturgy, but each one consists of just one or two lines from a given prayer. We'll chant each several times, letting the music and the meaning wash over us and through us, and then sit in silence for a few minutes to discover what unfolds in us during the silence which seals the sound.

I've put our chant liturgy online -- a dozen chants, Hebrew and transliteration and English translation and mp3s -- and I thought I'd share it here in case it's helpful to any of y'all. It is here: contemplative chants for morning prayer. Please feel free to use, to share, and to enjoy -- and if you're in our neck of the woods next Shabbat morning, please feel free to join us!

(Credit where it is due: many of these chants were written by Rabbi Shefa Gold and can be found, sung in her voice, on her website. Others are by Rabbi Jeff Roth of the Awakened Heart Project. If contemplative Judaism is something you're interested in, both of these rabbis are excellent teachers...)

Jerusalem, city of music

The first thing I ever saw by the artist Kutiman was Thru You, an amazing multi-part music and video piece created by using found footage of artists from YouTube. He took footage of unrelated artists -- someone here playing bass, someone there practicing violin -- and mashed it up into a pretty astounding album of music-and-video, artists around the world unknowingly collaborating with one another on the stage of his splitscreen. It's truly transformative work, and it's amazing.

Kutiman's recently released a new work which I find equally wonderful. It's a pair of videos made in Jerusalem, reflecting the sounds and sights of that amazing, contested, complicated, beautiful city.

First he spent three days walking around the city with a camera and created a short video called "My Trip to Jerusalem." (I loved watching this not only because it's beautiful in its own right, but because I recognized places and landscapes and vistas -- it made me miss Jerusalem tremendously!)

(Kutiman's "My Trip to Jerusalem;" if you can't see the embedded video, go directly to it here.)

Then he returned several times over the course of two months, and recorded both footage and live music which he braided into another spectacular mashup of video and sound. (Here's a blog post about the making of the piece, which includes video recordings Kutiman took of artists Safi Sweid, Hani Asad, and Loev -- all of which are part of the final piece.)

It turns out Kutiman himself is Israeli; his real name is Ophir Kutiel, and he was born in Jerusalem and lived there until he moved to Tel Aviv at eighteen. He's Artist of the Season for this year's Jerusalem's Season of Culture, which is how this work came to be. You can read a general overview of the piece here at the Season of Culture website, and a good review (and short interview with the artist) here at Wired. On the Season of Culture page celebrating the piece, I learned that it features

...blues artist Lazer Lloyd (who after a short visit to a rabbi changed his life completely despite being signed by Atlantic Records), Guy Mar from HaDag Nahash, Safi Suede - one of the most important Kanun players in the world; the ultimate marching band - Marsh Dondurma, Emanuel Wizthum on the viola and a few dozen musicians of different ages, different ethnic backgrounds and who play different instruments -- but all of which derive from the city.

(The quote is from the Jerusalem City of Culture page; I dug up the links myself, wanting to know more about each artist. I'm bummed that most of the Arabic artists don't seem to have web presences...)

Anyway, here's the final piece, which moves me tremendously (and is also great music). Unlike in Thru You, where the artists were unknowing collaborators with one another (and that's part of the piece's magic), here is a wide range of artists in Jerusalem who participated in this project knowing that their work was going to be part of a greater whole. An embodied prayer, maybe, for a Jerusalem where Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians, can make music together in peace.

(Kutiman's "Thru Jerusalem;" if you can't see the embedded video, go directly to it here.)

Melodies for gratitude

A while back, I posted about setting the Modah Ani -- the morning prayer for gratitude -- to the tune of a Richard Thompson song. After that post went live, a number of people wrote to tell me that they'd never heard Modah Ani before and that they appreciated hearing it. I love Modah Ani -- it's probably the prayer I say most often -- and I wanted to share a few other tunes here for anyone who's considering adding this to their morning routine.

Modah Ani is the prayer for gratitude, meant to be recited first thing upon waking in the morning. ("Modah" is the feminine form of the first word, "Grateful;" men recite "Modeh ani" instead.) Here's the prayer's text in full:

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה, רבה אמונתך.

Modah ani l'fanecha, melech chai v'kayam, shehchezarta bi nishmati b'chemla, rabbah emunatecha!

("I am grateful before You, living and enduring God, that you have mercifully restored my soul to me. Great is Your faithfulness!")

On my first trip to Elat Chayyim back in 2002, I attended a contemplative morning service led by Rabbi Jeff Roth. I remember him telling us that he wanted us to focus on gratitude while we were singing these words, and that if we couldn't access gratitude in that moment, then we might choose to focus on praying that someday we might be able to feel grateful again. His version is extremely simple: just the first two words of the prayer, repeated again and again. It's also a round, though this recording is just me singing solo, so you'll have to extrapolate how the round would sound:

Continue reading "Melodies for gratitude" »

New Tu BiShvat tune from Nava Tehila

Just in time for Tu BiShvat, the wonderful folks at Nava Tehila (the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem) have released a new melody:

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it here on YouTube.)

The text is Psalm 96:12: יַעֲלֹז שָׂדַי, וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ; אָז יְרַנְּנוּ, כָּל-עֲצֵי-יָעַר -- "Let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy."

Happy new year, trees!

A kaddish for Debbie

At shacharit (morning services) last Sunday morning, my dear friend David Rachmiel told us that he had very sad news to impart. Voice shaking, he told us that Debbie Friedman had died only a few hours before. The room was plunged into silence and sorrow. Somehow we all wound up in a circle with our arms around one another, singing Debbie's "Kaddish D'Rabanan."

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it here on YouTube. The version of the song I found on YouTube has a funky beat and a lot of instrumentation; we sang it often at Ohalah, a cappella.)

For our teachers and their students
And for the students of their students
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen.
And for those who study Torah here and everywhere
May they be blessed with all they need, and let us say: Amen.
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen!
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen!
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen...

The kaddish d'rabanan (also known as the "scholar's kaddish") is a variation on the kaddish (the prayer which magnifies and sanctifies the name of God and which acts as a "gate" between different sections of the service -- and which is also recited by mourners.) In this version of the prayer -- which is recited after Torah study -- there's an extra paragraph which translates to basically what Debbie's rendered above. The Aramaic is notoriously tricky for those who aren't accustomed to the words, but her English is clear and singable. I'd never heard her version before this Ohalah. By the end of the conference we'd sung it so often I knew it by heart.

I wasn't blessed to know Debbie in life, but I've known her music for as long as I can remember: her tune for the havdalah blessings, her Mi Sheberach (prayer for healing), her dual setting for Elohai Neshama and Asher Yatzar (the prayers for body and for soul.) It seems to me that she had a particular genius for taking traditional texts and rendering them in English and in melody in a way which would be accessible and meaningful to those who heard (and, ideally, learned to sing) what she had scored.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah (the Shabbat of Song) when we read the Song of the Sea, that beautiful Torah portion which is laid out on the scroll like lattice. This year at my shul we'll be celebrating Shabbat Shirah in a different way as well: by singing and cherishing the songs which Debbie Friedman gave over to us, with gratitude. After our Shabbat morning Torah study we recite the kaddish d'rabanan in Aramaic, and with that one tricky/unfamiliar paragraph in English. This week I hope to sing Debbie's melody instead. I'm sorry for our collective loss, but so glad to have her music as her legacy.

A Richard Thompson 'Modah Ani'

Last night a friend and I caught the Richard Thompson Band on their Dream Attic tour. This is, I think, the fourth time I've been lucky enough to see Richard play; I've seen him twice with his band, over the years, and once on the Thousand Years of Popular Song tour. (I think I was the only person in the audience that night who screamed with joy when he played "So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo." What? I used to sing it with my madrigal ensemble!)

Last night's show had a somewhat unusual set list, to my mind. The first set was the entirety of the new album ("even the bad songs," Richard quipped, which got a laugh) and then the second set was an assortment of favorites from recent albums and from his amazingly deep back catalogue. There's a review of the show here at Masslive, for those who are curious.

Unsurprisingly, I woke up this morning humming RT songs. Specifically, I was humming one of my favorites among the new tunes he played last night, a track called "Sidney Wells." The song is in 9/8 time, also known as "compound triple time", used in slip jigs -- or so Richard told us last night.

The lyrics are somewhat grisly, but since the new album is relatively new to me, I don't know most of them by heart yet. And I often sing in the shower -- usually some variation on morning liturgy, to keep my head and heart in the right place while Drew entertains himself with toys outside the shower door. Can you see where this is going?

Yep: this morning in the shower I wound up setting Modah Ani, the morning prayer for gratitude, to the tune of Richard Thompson's "Sidney Wells." Drew seemed to like it, and I'm tickled by the repurposing of the melody, so I'm enclosing the mp3 below. If you're ever looking for a new Modah Ani tune, feel free to add this one to your repertoire!

I'm also enclosing, below, a recording of Richard Thompson and his band performing the song so you can see where this melody is borrowed from. (I couldn't find a video of the band performing "Sidney Wells," so the YouTube video below is visually uninteresting -- just a still image -- but the music is there.)

The tradition of using popular melodies for liturgical purposes is an old one, but this is the first Jewish liturgical use of Richard Thompson that I know of; if there are others out there, please enlighten me!


Nava Tehila melody for psalm 27, verse 8

From Nava Tehila, the Jerusalem Jewish Renewal congregation which I love so much, comes the following melody for one of the lines of Psalm 27.

Yoel from Nava Tehila singing psalm 27, verse 8. If you can't see the embedded video, you can find it here.

The words are:

Lach amar libi bakshu panay
Et panayich HaVaYaH avakesh

"Havayah" is a reordering of the letters of the Divine Name, which is used often when people do not want to pronounce the name but do wish to mention the letters. It means "all existence," and is a feminine term. The rest of the Hebrew text has also been feminized; this is the form of address one would use in speaking to a woman rather than to a man. You might choose to understand this rendition of this line of the psalm as being sung to the immanent divine Presence of God (Shekhinah) rather than to the masculine transcendent (Kadosh Baruch Hu.) Or, not! Up to you.

The English translation is:

To You my heart has said: I turn to seek you,
Your Face / Presence is what I'm searching for.

Thanks, Reb Ruth & Nava Tehila folks, for this beautiful tune.

Achat Sha'alti (One Thing I Ask)

A while ago I posted about Psalm 27, the psalm which is traditionally read daily during the month of Elul leading up to the Days of Awe. Verse four of that psalm is part of my daily practice at this time of year, because I know and love a tune for that verse.

My very first visit to the old Elat Chayyim, back in August of 2002, included the transition from the month of Av to the month of Elul. Once Elul had started, we began closing our morning services by singing this simple melody for this one verse of psalm 27. We sang these words in Hebrew and in English:

Achat sha'alti me'eit Adonai, otah avakesh (2x)
Shivti b'veit Adonai, kol y'mei chayay
Lachazot b'noam, b'noam Yah, u'l'vaker b'heikhalo (2x)

One thing I ask, I ask of You, I earnestly pray for (2x)
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
Knowng the beauty, the beauty of You, and to dwell in Your holy place! (2x)

I've never known who wrote the melody, and my initial digging online yielded a bunch of question marks. So I emailed the ALEPH student community, and learned that in a book of sheet music called Songs of the Chassidim I put out by Velvel Pasternak many years ago, the melody is attributed to one I. Katz. (If you know anything about him/her, please do share!)

Anyway, I promised to teach it to a friend, and after I recorded it for her, it occurred to me that perhaps some of you might enjoy it too. So I'm enclosing it here. If you can't see the embedded mp3 player (below), here's a direct link to the mp3: [achatshaalti.mp3.]

It's not a fabulous recording by a long shot, but it should be enough to learn the melody from, if you like.

Singing this song, I find myself thinking about the significance of the words. What does it mean to ask to dwell in God's house? One of my favorite interpretations of the first line of the ashrei ("Happy are they who dwell in Your house") holds that each of our bodies can be God's house if we approach embodied experience with mindfulness. (I learned that from Rabbi Phyllis Berman.) So then am I asking God for the ability to remember that I'm always already dwelling in God's house, that my body is holy? And what does it mean to say "all the days of my life" -- why kol, all? One interpretation holds that "the days of my life" would mean daytimes, but "all the days" means days and nights, too.

As we count down these last days of Elul, I'm finding comfort in knowing that this is only the beginning of our journey. If you haven't been able to make time during Elul to do the inner work of figuring out where your course needs correction, take heart: the new year, with its chance to kick your spiritual processes into high gear, is just around the corner...

Nothing more beautiful than peace

Now that I've lived a summer in Jerusalem, Middle East news feels more immediate to me than it used to. This week, that truth has been a painful one. It's been heartbreaking to watch the news pour forth from Gaza these last few days. And the vitriol I'm seeing across the blogosphere, and on several of the e-mail lists to which I belong, leaves me almost as heartsick as the news.

So what can I offer? Via Sustainable Judaism comes this YouTube video of "The Jewish-Arab Peace Song" (not the most creative title ever, though I guess at least it's informative) -- a song celebrating the shared wish for peace, in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles:

I like the oud line, the doumbek, and (for lack of a better term) the feel of the song; this couldn't have come out of anywhere but Israel, and I love that about it. I also love its message -- and how its very existence reminds me that there are Israelis and Palestinians who share the vision of a just peace between their two peoples, no matter what either government does or says.

The song was commissioned by Peace Child Israel, an organization which aims to teach coexistence to Israeli and Palestinian teens through theater and the arts. It was written by Israeli artist Shlomo Gronich and is performed by Gronich, Leah Shabat, Mizrahi singer Zehava Ben, and Eli Luzon alongside Palestinian artists Sahmir Shukri, Nivine Jaabri, Elias Julianos, and Lubna Salame. (Read more, including a list of supporting instrumentalists, here.)

Feeling saddened by the flood of news, I opened a book of psalms; I landed on psalm 122, which contains the line  לְמַעַן אַחַי וְרֵעָי, אֲדַבְּרָה-נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ, "For the sake of my brothers and friends, I pray, peace to you." If only we could see one another, across these various borders, as brothers and friends.

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New CD from Nava Tehila

This summer, while in Jerusalem, I had the pleasure of davening with Nava Tehila (the Jewish Renewal community in town) a few times: twice at their regular monthly services (followed by potluck and storytelling/singing late into the night at Reb Ruth's house) and once when they held a special service to celebrate an ALEPH group being in town. I posted here about my dips into their community: Coming Home: a Jewish Renewal erev Shabbat and Waltzing through Shabbat with Nava Tehila (second post is complete with YouTube video of the founders singing one of their original tunes in Reb Ruth's living room.)

They told us this summer that they were working on a cd, which made me incredibly happy. They use a variety of original melodies, written by the members of the trio who put the services together, many of which are now very close to my heart. So I was delighted to hear from Reb Ruth this week that the cd is now out: Nava Tehila: Dancing in the Glory - A Journey into Kabbalat Shabbat.

Nava Tehila is an emerging, inclusive spiritual Jewish community based in Jerusalem that brings together people from all backgrounds for joyous prayer. Over the last couple of years we have been blessed with an influx of many new niggunim (holy chants), that are especially suited for singing in community and bringing the presence of Shechina (God) to dwell in our midst.

Dancing in the Glory is a collection of chants that follow the magical flow of Kabbalat Shabbat. This 16th century kabbalistic ritual for welcoming in the Sabbath is built as a dance between the community and the Divine. In Nava Tehila we interpret the Kabbalat Shabbat service as a spiritual journey that can evoke new experiences every week while following the traditional prayer structure. This journey takes us, by the use of guided kavvanot (intentions), through wonder, struggle, joy, elation, dance, tranquility and eventually to peace.

We invite you to come and dance in the glory with us and all Ohavei Adonai - Lovers of God - around the world.

You can listen to snippets of the songs on the cdbaby website. Listening to them now, I'm reminded deliciously of what it felt like to sing and pray with such heart in such a wonderful, open, and generous community. I'm especially psyched that the album features their two Lecha Dodi melodies and their melody for Shalom Aleichem, which I adore! The recorded versions are more polished than the versions I experienced live; in some ways that's a good thing, in other ways I miss the immediacy of the live experience of singing and dancing and jumping up and down in prayer. For that, I guess, I'll have to find my way back to Jerusalem one of thse days.

Until then, I've put the cd on my Amazon wishlist. If you're looking for a good Chanukah (or Christmas!) gift for someone who loves Jewish music, and/or if you want to support the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem, this is a good use of your $18.

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