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Rosh Hashanah music that may surprise you

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The Maccabeats (YouTube screencap)

When you think of holidays with the best Jewish music, it might be charitable to say that Rosh Hashanah is not the first festival that comes to mind. That may be just why there are so many creative people out there who know a challenge when they see it and have come up with some incredible tunes that range from toe-tapping to traditional to hilarious. Here are some of my favourites.

 Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem

My image of yeshiva students is rows of studious scholars hunched over sacred texts while engaging in legal and philosophical debates. I am quite sure that’s what things are like at Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem. But I also discovered that yeshiva boys can be pretty wild break-dancers, too. In Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem, they kick up a storm through the alleys of the Old City while explaining the holiday’s significance.

Fill the Kiddush cup, my friends around

Books are opened up, the challah’s round

All our history, we see it now

Now please hear our plea, we’re prayin’ now

Sometimes a video like this risks being cringe-worthy when they try to be too cool for their own good. Not so here.

 

Dip Your Apple – Fountainheads 

Keep your foot tapping as the Fountainheads from the Ein Prat Academy head to the Negev to sing Dip Your Apple based on Shakira’s “Waka Waka.”

Any wrong can be made right

Just forgive, you need not fight

Shana Tova Umetuka

It’s Rosh Hashanah

Shanana nana, Tova

Ume Ume Tuka

Dip your apple in the honey

It’s Rosh Hashanah

Bedecked in colourful shirts, these photogenic performers hail from Ein Prat, a Beit Midrash for “young adults [who] come together from across the religious and political spectrum to forge a new paradigm for Israel.”

 

Call Me Maybe – Chana Tova

Let’s leave Israel (for a song or two.) First stop, France, where the classic (Canadian) song, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe gets a Gallic revamp. Even if you’ve forgotten most of your high school French, you’ll still get a hang of the lyrics (and the English subtitles don’t hurt.)

Hey Chana Tova !

et où que tu sois

Jéru ou Paris

So call me maybe

Hey Shana Tova!

And wherever you are

Jerusalem or Paris

So call me maybe

 

This Is the New Year – The Maccabeats

No roundup of contemporary Jewish holiday songs would be complete without The Maccabeats. Perhaps best known for their Hanukah-themed song, Candlelight, the all-male a cappella group from New York’s Yeshiva University haven’t forgotten this season’s holiday with This Is the New Year. As you get swept away by their ability to mimic a range of instruments, don’t forget to listen to the meaningful lyrics.

Another year you made a promise

Another chance to turn it all around

And do not save this for tomorrow

Embrace the past and you can live for now

 

Want more holiday-related Maccabeats? Try Book of Good Life.

Dip the apple in the honey… The good geeks at The Technion aimed to do just that with a twist. While most of us might use a knife and a bowl, they prefer a crossbow and helium balloons filled with honey. Will their experiment work or will it shower Technion president Peretz Lavie in a torrent of honey? (There’s not much music in that video. However, the Technion does have another video set to the classic kids’ song “Shana Tova” in which robots attempt to do the impossible, set a table for the holiday.)

READ: HIGH HOLIDAY HUMOUR

I would be remiss if I only shared with you contemporary takes on the new year. Rosh Hashanah does have some classic melodies, three of which get beautiful renditions.

T’ka B’Shofar – Cantor Yoni Rose

Cantor Yoni Rose performs a remarkable version of T’ka B’Shofar (Sound the Shofar) associated with the great chazan, Yossele Rosenblatt. Cantor Rose is accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Eli Jaffe.

Unetaneh Tokef – Freilach Band with Shmueli Ungar and Yedidim Choir

On New Year’s Day the Decree is inscribed

And on the Day of Atonement it is sealed

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born

Who shall live and who shall die.

They are perhaps the most moving words of the High Holiday services. The Unetaneh Tokef prayer is recited on Rosh Hashanah and then again on Yom Kippur. In startling detail, it tells how our fate is inscribed and sealed during these Days of Awe – and lists in detail the destiny that may await us over the coming year. Despite the horrors mentioned, the poem continues to grip worshippers and composers centuries after it was written. And that is how I felt listening to the version by the Freilach Band with ​Shmueli​ ​Ungar​ ​and ​Yedidim​ ​Choir. I particularly enjoy how this version maintains a balance between the gravity of the lyrics while allowing for some (almost) upbeat orchestration.

 

“Ki Hinay Kachomer” (Like Clay in the Hands of the Potter) – Natan Goshen

Finally of the traditional tunes, Natan Goshen sings the piyut (liturgical poem), “Ki Hinay Kachomer“ (Like Clay in the Hands of the Potter). In it, the Jews are compared to a series of objects that are malleable in the hands of God, including clay in the hand of the potter, silver in the hands of the silversmith, a curtain in the hand of the embroiderer, and…

Like the glass in the hand of the blower-

He shapes it at will and dissolves it at will-

So are we in Your hand,

O Forgiver of willful sins and errors,

Look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Goshen’s melody is the one most familiar to me. He delivers it with a perfect balance of gravity and inspiration.

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous…

 

Ba-ba-ba Shana Tova from the Minions!!!

When I think of a minyan, the quorum of ten Jewish worshippers come to mind. And when I think of a minion, I picture squat, yellow, one- or two-eyed goggled creatures decked out in tiny overalls. Is there a connection between the two? Of course there is when the latter sing “Ba-ba-ba Shana Tova” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Ba-ba-ba-ba Barbara Ann!”

 

Ba-ba-ba Shana Tova!