Category Archives: music

Songs and prayers of mourning and comfort

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

What an extraordinary gift it was to gather together last night with so many of our friends, neighbors, and fellow-travelers for songs and prayers of memory and comfort.

Here are some of the songs and prayers from our vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting:


Ahavah v’rachamim (“love and compassion”) chant:


We Are Loved:


Ufros Aleinu (“Spread over us your sukkah of peace”):




What Is the Mourner’s Kaddish?


Olam Chesed Yibaneh (“I will build this world from love”):


May the memories of the eleven who were slaughtered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh be for a blessing. And may the Source of Peace bring peace to all who mourn and comfort to all who are bereaved.

Rabbi Rachel

More melodies for the Days of Awe

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

A few weeks ago I shared a post containing some melodies for the Days of Awe — focusing on those melodies I knew we would begin singing at our Selichot service.

Here are some other melodies you’ll hear at CBI during the Days of Awe. The first one is the Bar’chu or Call to Prayer, sung in the nusach — the melodic mode — unique to this time of year:

Bar’chu – High Holiday Evening Nusach

This next one is Mi Chamocha, the blessing for redemption that reminds us every day of the Exodus from Egypt, also sung in the special nusach for this season:

Mi Chamocha – High Holiday Evening Nusach

(If you listen to the above two tracks together, you’ll hear how they are variations on the same melody — they are sung to the same nusach, adapted for different words.)

This next one is the prayer called Avinu Malkeinu — “Our Father, Our King.” For some of us the patriarchal language of fathers and kings can be challenging, but the melody may feel meaningful even so. (For me, part of what’s beautiful about this prayer is how it plays with the intersection of transcendence and closeness. Kings are far away and distant; parents are intimate and loving, at least ideally.) I have two Avinu Malkeinu recordings for you:

Avinu Malkeinu – Max Janowski setting

Max Janowski’s melody for “Avinu Malkeinu” was popularized by Barbra Streisand, and we will hear it a few times over the course of the holidays.

Avinu Malkeinu – “traditional” (waltz or 6/8) setting

Many people are deeply attached to this setting, sometimes referred to as a waltz though I would say it’s in 6/8 time rather than 3/4. We’ll sing this refrain a few times over the course of the holidays also.

Next up is Kol Nidre — “All the Vows.”

Kol Nidre – “All the Vows” – sung by Rabbi / Cantor Angela Buchdahl

The text of this prayer asserts in advance that we know we will miss the mark in making promises we cannot keep, and begs for forgiveness for that human frailty. The melody is haunting and is sung only once a year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, before sundown (ergo before Yom Kippur officially “begins.”)

May listening to (and singing!) these melodies prepare our hearts to open as we approach this most awesome and powerful time of year.

Wishing you blessings as we approach the new year —

Rabbi Rachel

Music for the season

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Music is one of the doors to the heart. The service known as Selichot (“Pardons”) is our first opportunity to immerse in high holiday music each year. Here are some of the melodies you’ll hear at CBI at Selichot (this Saturday night, August 25, at 8pm!)

Lulei He’emanti (Psalm 27:13)

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the mp3 here.) Melody by Rabbi David Markus.

The Thirteen Attributes

Melody source unknown; text from Torah. When we sing it here, we also often sing an English translation that fits to the same melody.

Ki Anu Amecha – For We Are Your People

The melody is “traditional” (source unknown). When we sing it here, we sometimes sing an English translation that fits to the same melody.

Return Again

Recorded by Neshama Carlebach; melody by her father.

Adon HaSelichot – Master of Pardons

“Traditional” Israeli melody. I first learned it at the Brookline Havurah Minyan, probably 20 years ago.

Achat Sha’alti – One Thing I Ask

Melody by I. Katz. When we sing this here, we also often sing an English translation that fits to the same melody.

If you’d like to listen to more high holiday music, either to familiarize yourself with the melodies and words or just to “get in the mood,” I highly recommend Tekiah from B’nei Jeshurun in New York City — at that link you can stream many of the songs of the high holiday liturgy, performed by their hazzan, musicians, and choir, and you can pick up a copy of the CD if you are so inclined. (We use many of the same melodies that they do.)

I hope to post again as the Days of Awe draw nearer with links to some of the other melodies we’ll be using here over the holidays.

May listening to (and singing!) these melodies prepare our hearts to open as we approach this most awesome and powerful time of year.

Wishing you blessings as we move deeper into Elul —

Rabbi Rachel

Music for Elul and the Days of Awe: Lulei He’emanti

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The High Holiday season begins with the lunar month of אלול / Elul, the month that leads us to Rosh Hashanah. Elul begins this Friday evening.

Some of us enter this holy corridor of time through the words of psalms and prayer, both ancient and modern. Some find a doorway in through contemplation and cheshbon ha-nefesh, taking an accounting of our souls. And some of us find a way in through music. I love all three of these, but the doorway of music is particularly close to my heart.

Every year at CBI at this season we sing settings of different parts of Psalm 27, the psalm that tradition assigns to the month of Elul and the Days of Awe. Over recent years we’ve come to know and love Israel Katz’s “Achat Sha’alti,” and Nava Tehila’s “Lach Amar Libi,” and an adaptation of Bat Kol’s “Kaveh El Adonai / Keep Hoping in the One.”

Our shul has been sharing these musical themes each year (and the sermon themes that go with them) with Temple Beth El of City Island, the shul served by my dear friend and Bayit co-founder Rabbi David Markus. This year our shared theme for the Days of Awe is Vision, and our musical refrain for the season is a setting of Psalm 27 verse 13, music written by Rabbi David.

The words are:

לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב-יְהוָ”ה  בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים

Lulei he’emanti lir’ot b’tuv-Adonai b’eretz chayyim

Here’s a simple recording:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the mp3 file here.)

And for those who read music, here’s sheet music:


Here are a few different translations of this verse:

[I would not have survived]
If I had not hoped that I would yet see
Yah’s goodness fully alive on Earth.  (R’ Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l)


If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Jewish Publication Society, 1917)


though i don’t always see it
i will ever trust in your goodness
right here
right now
in the land of the living. (R’ Brant Rosen)


Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living… (JPS, 1985)

The first word of the verse, lulei, is a special word. It’s traditionally written with dots over and below it: maybe to call our attention to it, maybe to enhance its conditional quality, maybe to heighten its poignancy. Without the word lulei, the verse would be fairly straightforward, indicating belief that the speaker will see God’s goodness in the land of the living. With lulei, the verse could imply: do I really see God’s goodness? do I really believe that I can see God’s goodness? what would I do if I couldn’t see God’s goodness? what do I do at the times when I cannot see God’s goodness? what does it mean to have faith, or to say that God is good, or to say that the world is good? what does it mean to see goodness in the world around us?

All of these are powerful questions that can fuel our entry into the High Holiday season.

We’ll sing this setting of Psalm 27:13 at all of the services I lead between now and the end of the Days of Awe, and Hazzan Randall and I will sing it with you during the High Holidays themselves, too. I hope you will listen to it this month. Sing along with it, let it soak into you, let it run through your head and heart, and let it infuse and inform this holy corridor of time leading us into and through the turn of the year.

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Melodies for the Days of Awe

Dear all,

The full moon of Elul rises tonight: Rosh Hashanah begins two weeks from tomorrow! To help open your heart and awaken your spirit before the holidays, here are some of the melodies you’ll hear at CBI in a few weeks:

Our opening song on Rosh Hashanah evening will be Ivdu Et Hashem B’Simcha (“Serve the One with joy!”):

That night we’ll sing several things (including the Bar’chu / the Call to Prayer) in the special nusach, the melodic mode, of Erev Rosh Hashanah:

Here’s another link that showcases that melody in a slightly different way, and also offers some teaching about the melody and how we use it: High Holy Days in Brooklyn Singing Lesson 6: Bar’chu and Mi Chamocha:

On the second morning of Rosh Hashanah, at our contemplative service, we’ll use Joey Weisenberg’s Nishmat Kol Chai:

At least once during the holidays we’ll sing Shir Yaakov’s setting of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s poem “We Are Loved“:

And also his setting of V’hashevota, a line from the Aleinu:

Of course we’ll sing excerpts from Psalm 27, including Nava Tehila’s setting of Lach Amar Libi:

And including Israel Katz’s melody for Achat Sha’alti:

May listening to these melodies between now and the Days of Awe stir your soul and open your heart. We can’t wait to be with you soon!

Blessings to all,
Rabbi Rachel and Hazzan Randall

Join us this week for Kabbalat Shabbat at CBI!

Kabalat-ShabbatJoin us this Friday evening at 6pm for Kabbalat Shabbat — the service of joyful songs, psalms, and prayers with which we “receive the face of Shabbat” and welcome the Shabbat Bride into our midst. Put a seal on the week and relax into the joy of Shabbat!

To whet your appetite, here are a couple of the melodies we will use this Friday night:

Shalom Aleichem, the song which welcomes the angels of Shabbat:

(Melody: Shneyer; Recording: Jeff Klepper.)

Yedid Nefesh, the medieval love song to God (this recording is Hebrew only; we will sing some in English, too):

(Melody: Traditional; Recording: Danny Maseng)

Here is an online folder which contains these mp3s (and a couple of others as well)- you are welcome to listen to them online or to save them to your own computer. And, of course, please support the artists by buying their music.

We hope to see you this Friday night at CBI!

Greeting the Beloved on Friday night

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Tonight will bring one of our First Friday Shabbats — we’ll begin at 6pm with candle-lighting and a potluck, and continue with Kabbalat Shabbat services after dinner, around 6:40.

In addition to the two beautiful melodies from Nava Tehila which we’ll be using tonight (which I sent out earlier this week — Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi), we’ll be singing another of my very favorite Shabbat songs: a medieval love poem by R’ Eliezer Azkiri called Yedid Nefesh.

Our mystics imagined God as the cosmic Beloved, yearning for connection with creation even as we yearn for connection with divinity. Shabbat is the time when we and God meet in love.

Tonight we’ll sing Yedid Nefesh in English, using Reb Zalman z”l’s singable English translation which captures much of the poetry of the Hebrew. “You who love my soul,” the song begins, “sweet source of tenderness…” I am always moved by that way of describing the Holy One of Blessing: not as Lord, not as King (nor as Queen), but as the One Who loves us with infinite tenderness.

This love song imagines that tonight, as we welcome in Shabbat, our tired souls can bathe in divine light and find comfort. “My heart’s desire is to harmonize with yours,” writes R’ Eliezer (as rendered by R’ Zalman.) Imagine our hearts singing in harmony with the Source of All! That’s what our mystics thought that Shabbat is meant to provide.

For those who read music, here’s sheet music for the Yedid Nefesh we will sing tonight: yedid nefesh [pdf] Join us tonight for dinner and/or for Kabbalat Shabbat services where we will receive the face, the presence, of Shabbat; the presence of the divine Beloved; and the presence of the answering love within us which Shabbat can call forth.

Shabbat shalom —

Rabbi Rachel