J.J. Goldberg

Passover Concert Part 2: Exile, Redemption & Math

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons

I was hoping to post Part 2 of the Passover concert before the first Seder and then log off for yomtov, but cleaning the oven took longer than I expected (don’t ask). So here it is. We’ve got some Psalms, some spirituals, some memories of Jerusalem and some visions of the Messianic Era.

This time we’ve got selections by Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Phish, the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, Dylan & Baez, Chava Alberstein, The Melodians, Matisyahu, Meir Ariel, Blind Reverend Gary Davis and Abbott & Costello, plus a few more.

As you’ll recall, Part 1 took us through Magid, the Seder narrative, and up to the meal. Part 2 opens with Jon Stewart hosting Jason Bateman, a self-described “goy” who attended his first Seder and describes it to Stewart with a sense of wonder.

(It should be noted that Jon Stewart acknowledged after the break that he’d been wrong about the word chazerai, which has nothing to do with chazir and does indeed mean, as Bateman said, Tchotchkes, flotsam or junk.)

After the meal, of course, comes Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. Here are two of them.

The first picks up the spirit of the traditional Birkat Hamazon, giving thanks for the land and its bounty, inch by inch and row by row. Some people think the best way to hear “The Garden Song” is from the guy who wrote it, David Mallett. It’s fine, but I don’t think anyone will ever match Arlo Guthrie’s madcap rendition:

The second way to give thanks is in the spirit of the Israeli pioneers, via Chaim Nachman Bialik’s Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha, “The Song of Work and Labor” (“Who will save us from hunger? Who will feed us bread and pour us a glass of milk? O, who gets our thanks, our blessing? Work and labor!”) Sung here by the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, featuring (front row and top left) Gidi Gov, Yitzhak Klapter and Alon Oleartchik, all of Poogy fame; plus Shlomo Gronich, Yehudit Ravitz and Ariel Zilber. Also worth watching: a wonderful clip from 1937 of the song’s composer, Nachum Nardi, accompanying his first wife Bracha Tsfira as she sings “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha.”

After drinking the third cup of wine, we open the door for Elijah the Prophet, hoping he’ll come this year to herald the messianic era. Here’s the Vienna Jewish Choir, conducted by Roman Grinberg, with a fine version of the prophet’s traditional song.

Here’s a very different take on Elijah, from a very different Jewish tradition, performed by the Moroccan-Jewish singing legend Cheikh Mwijo (Moshe Attias).

Bob Dylan laid out his messianic vision of the time of liberation: “The Hour That the Ship Comes In,” with Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (I’ve uploaded this before. I’ll keep doing it until it hits No. 1.)

Next comes the holiday cycle of readings from Psalms, known as Hallel. Since it’s getting late, we’ll run through it with a single song that captures all the main themes of the Hallel in just a few lines. It’s the 1942 pop tune “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” words and music by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business”), who donated all the royalties to the war effort. This 1943 version, by Kay Kyser (of College of Musical Knowledge Fame) and His Orchestra, hit No. 1.

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Songs to Atone By: Dylan, Jolson, Streisand, Oysher

By J.J. Goldberg

YouTube Screen Shot
Al Jolson sings Kol Nidre in ‘The Jazz Singer,’ 1927

As we approach the holiest day of the year, I’ve put together a selection of songs that sum up the day and capture its spirit, at least for me. I’ve tried to follow the order of the day, from the introductory prayer to Kol Nidre, the Maariv service, some highlights of Mussaf, the Jonah story and finally Neilah and absolution. Some selections are traditional liturgy in particularly excellent musical rendering; others are American songs that capture the message and the flavor IMHO. Included are performances by Bob Dylan, Al Jolson, Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker, Cass Elliott and Joni Mitchell, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and Louis Armstrong, among many others.

Note: Steve and Eydie are a late addition, erev chag. I don’t know how I forgot them, as you’ll see when you hear their tune. They close the concert. Eydie closed hers just a month ago, on the 4th of Ellul, August 10.

We start as evening approaches and we prepare to stand before the Gates of Heaven. You know the drill: It’s getting too dark to see, and we’re Knocking on Heaven’s Door. This is a live version of the Bob Dylan song, from his 1976 Rolling Thunder Review concert tour, and he’s joined by Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn. By the way, the most emotionally devastating version of the song ever recorded might be this one; it’s sung by Warren Zevon on his final album, “The Wind,” reflections on his own upcoming death of cancer, which came just 10 years ago, on September 7, 2003, at age 56, a few days after the album was released.

Incidentally, Dylan originally wrote and performed “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” for the soundtrack (here’s the original) of the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” At the time Dylan was living in New York and meeting with kibbutz aliyah shaliach Shaul Pe’er, who was negotiating for Dylan and his family to spend a trial year at Kibbutz Kfar Blum. But in late 1972 Dylan told Shaul he was putting the talks on hold for several months while he went to Los Angeles to make the film. He never left LA.

Next are the two most powerful versions of Kol Nidre ever committed to film, in my opinion. The first is the iconic rendition by Al Jolson at the climax of the very first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” in 1927. It’s a tale that closely parallels Jolson’s own life of a cantor’s son who runs off to become a pop crooner and finally comes home on Yom Kippur to fill in on the bima for his dying father.

The second is sung by the great cantor Moishe Oysher in the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture to Glory” (“Der Vilner Shtot Khazn” or “Vilna City Cantor”). It’s a variation on the “Jazz Singer” theme with Oysher playing a young cantor who is lured from the synagogue to become an opera singer, learns his son has died, loses his voice, takes to the streets and finally stumbles back into shul for one last Kol Nidre before dying. Not to be missed.

After Kol Nidre we enter the evening Maariv service, which more or less begins with the Maariv Aravim prayer, Blessed is He who creates night and day and arranges the stars in the heavens. This is Bob Dylan’s approximate translation of the prayer, Father of Night, sung here by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band:

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