News / Arts & Entertainment

Younger Jews Reshape High Holiday Music

Shir Yaakov Feit (right) with Romemu Rabbi David Ingber in a communal Jewish celebration. (Photo Credit: Jeff Tisman Photography)
Shir Yaakov Feit (right) with Romemu Rabbi David Ingber in a communal Jewish celebration. (Photo Credit: Jeff Tisman Photography)
Adam Phillips
September 4 through the 14 mark the main Jewish High Holiday season when Jews all over the world undergo 10-days of self-reflection, repentance, music and prayer. The holidays begin on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Traditional High Holiday music and liturgy is often hundreds of years old, and older. But some of those traditions are being reshaped by a younger generation of Jews who want to put their own mark on their ancient heritage.
    
The blast of a “shofar”, the ram’s horn, is the most ancient and traditional of Jewish High Holidays music. For millennia, Jews around the world have sounded it as a wake-up call to repentance. The shofar blast is supposed to mimic soulful sobbing, and to herald the symbolic arrival of God as King on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. 

LISTEN: Younger Generation Reshapes High Holiday Music
Younger Generation Reshapes High Holiday Musici
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Most American Jews with ancestral roots in pre-Holocaust Eastern and Central Europe are also familiar with the chant of the synagogue cantor, or prayer leader. 

New traditions

But new traditions are being created by people like Basya Schechter of New York City. Schechter was raised in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish home that gave women little room for artistry. She left home, travelled the world and returned to her faith deepened by the musical experiences in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Basya Schechter grew up in an orthodox home but now incorporates World Music in her cantorial work and in her band Basya Schechter grew up in an orthodox home but now incorporates World Music in her cantorial work and in her band "Pharaoh's Daughter." (Photo Credit: Mimi Klein)
x
Basya Schechter grew up in an orthodox home but now incorporates World Music in her cantorial work and in her band
Basya Schechter grew up in an orthodox home but now incorporates World Music in her cantorial work and in her band "Pharaoh's Daughter." (Photo Credit: Mimi Klein)

“So I get to connect my old soul, my new complicated self, my travels, my questions my fears, my sadness and it comes out as a song.” 

Schechter spends weeks rehearsing for the High Holidays in her other role as cantor and prayer leader at more innovative synagogues. But for her, leading prayer is not a performance, and she does not seek to make the music her own.

“I try to make it something that is ‘our own.’ I want to make it an experience that not only I feel but brings everyone else along in the journey,” she said. 

Schechter adds that in many traditional synagogues, the cantor’s prayers are “the wings that everyone else would ride on,” and what the community sang was given less weight. 

“And, in our generation, it’s really about the energy and the momentum of the entire community together, creating space for people to have their own experience, whatever that is.”

Communal experience 

Schechter continues to find the traditional High Holiday prayers deeply meaningful. She especially loves “"U'Netaneh Tokef Kedushat HaYomam,” a Rosh HaShanah prayer whose Hebrew title translates as “Let Us Tell How Utterly Holy this Day is….” 

“And it talks about God being the True Judge. It’s acknowledging his role as the True Judge and giving him the space and the honor and the respect before we pray the other words.” 

Composer and cantor Shir Yaakov Feit says he loves the High Holidays music, yet like many of his generation, he finds the constant themes of God’s monarchy and majesty troublesome.

“We don’t find ourselves feeling like the children of royalty, and the models of earthly, powerful leadership are often corrupt and disappointing and sociopathic,” he said.

Feit was raised in a non-traditional Jewish home in an ethnically diverse New York neighborhood, and spent much of his young adulthood exploring the spiritual traditions of other cultures, including meditation and the community chanting of sacred texts. He says that, eventually, he discovered little known strains of those traditions in Judaism.    

“There is a text buried somewhere in our tradition that says that ‘the whole Torah is song.’ So for me getting back into my own Judaism and choosing it was through the vehicle of music.”

Shared meditation

For Feit, community chanting of musical prayers during the High Holidays are a form of shared meditation.

“Every note is a breath,” he said, “and there is an incredible sensitivity to each moment that develops the more we sing in community. Which is happening on conscious and completely deep unfathomable levels…And the body is totally alive in the moment of song when singing that way.”

Feit has also composed in the Jewish musical genre called niggunim, wordless repetitive melodies sung by groups that can induce a sense of shared spiritual ecstasy.

“We are now kind of gathering the sparks and rekindling the fire of vibrant, celebratory, complete Jewish spirituality. But it’s with some scar tissue….”  

Cellist and composer Noah Hoffeld's work often reimagines Jewish history through a contemporary musical lens. (Photo Credit: Spencer Gordon)Cellist and composer Noah Hoffeld's work often reimagines Jewish history through a contemporary musical lens. (Photo Credit: Spencer Gordon)
Both the hope and the melancholy of the Jewish People’s journey through history can be heard in “Adapting” composed by the Brooklyn cellist Noah Hoffeld.

It begins with his simple melody for “B’Sefer Chaim,” a High Holidays prayer that expresses the desire for God to be “inscribed in the book of life for happiness and health…. ”

The piece then translates the musical theme from one cultural mode into another – from Spain, North Africa and the Arab countries where millions of Jews once lived, to Central Europe, to America. 

“This is very similar to the experience of the Jews over the centuries, traveling, settling in countries, and adapting and absorbing influences,” says Hoffeld, “but at the same time sticking to their own personal identity of Jewishness.”

For Hoffeld re-imagining Jewish music and liturgy for new times and places is itself traditional.

“Except now we do it through the Internet or through just travelling and absorbing influences. You don’t need to settle in a country in order to absorb and incorporate their melodic material, rhythmic material, scales, harmonies, vibes. There’s a loosening of the rulebook. And that’s very exciting.”

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”