Share a Prayer – Music of the Shoah

Just days after concluding the celebration of the festival of Passover, people throughout the world observe Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. When reflecting on the horrors of the Shoah, one realizes that part of the profound devastation of our people that was wrought by the Nazis was the loss of an untold amount of musical and artistic creativity. It is impossible to calculate the sum of Jewish Music that was either lost or destroyed or never even created as a result of the darkest period of Modern history. However, there is a body of work that managed to survive and can still be heard today.

It is natural for the Jewish people to turn to music to express the innermost yearnings of their souls.  Thoughts and feelings too complex or horrible to be spoken in words have always been given voice though the medium of Jewish music. Jewish artistry, just like the Jewish spirit can never be totally quenched, even by the most formidable force of unspeakable evil.

Below are but a few of the great composers and lyricists whose musical gift allowed a small drop of the tremendous sea of emotion that is the Holocaust to be released:

Mordechai Gebirtig, born in 1877, is perhaps the most popular of all composers of Yiddish song. His music was popular not only in Europe but also in America where singers and actors in the Yiddish theater such as Molly Picon sang many of his greatest hits. Gebirtig is best known for the song most often associated with the Holocaust, Es Brent a lachrymose and haunting lament which cries out: “our town is burning, and all around do nothing but sit with folded hands.” Ironically, this song was somewhat prophetic, having been  composed before the holocaust began. Mordechai was murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Here is a recording by perhaps one of the greatest singers of Yiddish songs, Sidor Belarsky singing Es Brent.

Aleksander Kulisiewicz was born in 1918 in Cracow Poland. His dream of becoming a Musician was curtailed when he was deported to Sachenhausen concentration camp. While a prisoner at the camp, Kulisiewicz mange to compose, collect and perform numerous Yiddish songs, despite several attempts by the Nazis to murder him. Here is more information and some musical examples from the US Holocaust Musem :  http://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/music/detail.php?content=kulisiewicz

Shmaryahu Kaczerginski who was born in 1908 was a poet who was active in the Vilna Ghetto. While working as an archivist in a Library outside of the ghetto, he was able to establish underground contacts that enabled him to smuggle arms into the ghetto. Kaczerginski managed to escape the ghetto and join the partisans in 1943. In 1948, he published a collection of 250 songs and poems that had been composed in the ghetto including two of his own most famous offerings, the hauntingly macabre lullaby, Shtiller, Shtiller and the Yugent Hymn (youth anthem) which was to become a popular song among Yiddish movements in America. Here is a recording, drawn from the Judaica Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University, of Shtiller, Shtiller  by the Great Hazzan Issac Goodfriend.

Hirsh Glick, born in 1920 was imprisoned in the Vilna ghetto before being sent to an Estonian concentration camp. After escaping the camp, Glick joined the partisans and was killed in action. His famous Partizaner Lied (Song of the partisans) became the anthem of the Jewish partisans and is still sung today at most Holocaust Memorials. Click below to watch a video of the famous Israeli artist, Chava Alberstien singing the Partizaner Lied.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wgYnYSg3Zs

Of course it is difficult to discuss the music of the Holocaust without mentioning the Terezin Concentration Camp. Although in reality a horrible Nazi genocide camp, this Czechoslovakian site served as a propaganda tool that was used by Hitler to try and convince the world that the Jews were not being exterminated. A façade was created that included a film production and a visitation by the Red Cross. In reality, severe overcrowding and other deplorable conditions lead to the death of thousands of inmates. Furthermore, many of the ill or elderly were transported from Terezinstadt to Auschwitz for extermination.

The unique aspect of Terezin however, was the massive assembly of musicians and other artists from across Czechoslovakia as well as a handful of other countries that were encouraged/ forced to perform. Many noted composers created various styles of musical works. Of all of the vast amount of creative output generated and or performed at Terezin, the most well know is the operetta Brudibar or “Bumble Bee”, that has been performed all over the world. Here is a most moving story about Terezinstadt and the Operetta Brundibar produced by the CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brundibar-how-the-nazis-conned-the-world/

Thankfully, despite untold losses that occurred, we still have the opportunity to hear the works of some of the inspired musicians and poets of the Shoah. Their words and music will forever remain etched in our collective Jewish consciousness as a lasting memorial to those who did not survive to tell their story. The memories of the Holocaust will never be forgotten, the Music of the Holocaust will never be silenced.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers and Jewish Musical Heritage. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

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Share a prayer: Techinas (not the Middle Eastern dip)

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our Daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

A pristine white tablecloth decked with the finest of dishes and shinning silverware adorns the dining room table. The iridescent glow of waxy white candles set in two lustrous ancient candlesticks reflects in the eyes of your mother as she waves two strong but gentle hands over the flickering yellow flames. After whispering the traditional blessing, a singular tear rolls down her cheek as she silently recites an age-old private Shabbat prayer.

It is quite likely that the private petition that was just offered comes from a collection of Yiddish Prayers for various occasions known as Techinas .Techinas, from the Hebrew word meaning “supplication”, date back to the early 17th century. They were composed specifically to be offered by women who, in many cases were not given the opportunity to learn the Hebrew Prayers recited by men in the synagogue. Rabbi Julian Sinclair of the Jewish Chronicle.com suggests these prayers stem from Yiddish translations of Tachanun – the selections of supplications that are part of the weekday services.

Spiritually, these personal petitions are connected to biblical women who are credited with the most sincere and selfless supplications in the Bible. Hagar, the alienated concubine of Abraham besought God to protect her son Ishmael after they were cast into the dessert. Similarly, Hannah, in the book of Samuel, is recorded to have offered a tearful, silent supplication to the Holy One asking for a child. Incidentally, both were rewarded for their passionate pleas, Hanna became the mother of Samuel the first of the prophets while Hagar was shown a well which sustained her and her young son Ismael.

Rivka Zakutinsky, a noted author and educator living in Brooklyn NY, is the editor of an excellent new collection of Techinas entitled, Techinas A Voice from The Heart. She relates that while numerous collections of Techinas were published, the earliest known book of Techinas entitled, Techinas U’Bakashos (Supplications and Appeals) was printed in Basel Switzerland in 1609. Zakutinsky also notes that the best known author of Techinas was the elusive Sara Bas Tovim who was born sometime in the later part of the 17th Century. A collection of Techinas referencing the weekday prayers, fast days and the High Holydays entitled Sheker Ha Chen, (Charm is Deceitful), a reference to the Eishet Chayil ( a woman of valor) passage from the book of proverbs which is read by a traditional husband to his wife on Friday eve, is attributed to Sara Bas Tovim. Sara also is credited with a collection of these personal supplications relating to commandments specifically directed to women such as lighting candles, separating challah and attending the Mikvah. This work is called Shalosh She’arim (three gates.)

Shas Teḥine Rav Peninim  published in New York in 1916, is another  popular gathering of Techinas. Like many of the collections of Techinas, it contains Techinas to be recited while “the men are at synagogue,” following child birth, for the welfare of family and, over the kindling of Sabbath candles.

A high tech compilation of Techinas, assembled by The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College can be found onlineTechina Prior to Immersion in the Mikveh, is an excellent example of these.

Techinas are so powerful that even our modern-day siddur includes the Techina, Got Fun Avrum (God of Abraham) a soulful supplication said at the immediately following Havdalah  (separation), the prayer that marks the conclusion of Shabbat. There is tradition which attributes this prayer to the great Hassidic Master, Levi Yizchak of Berdichev.Here is the English translation of this text from Siddur Sim Shalom:

“God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, protect Your people Israel in their need, as the holy beloved Shabbes takes its leave. May the good week come to us with health and life, good fortune and blessing, prosperity and dignity, graciousness and loving-kindness, sustenance and success, with all good blessings and with forgiveness of sin.  Omein.”

Here is the Yiddish Text:

gotfunavrum

Got Fun Avrum is so well know that it became the theme of a popular Yiddish Song in titled Zol Noch Zein Shabbis (May it still be Shabbat) by the great composer and arranger of Jewish Music, Sholom Secunda  Here is a video of this melody sung by the one of the greatest and best known Hazzim, Moishe Oysher. The song also contains the text of the prayer as cited above.

Techinas are a rich, meaningful and potent source for personal prayer.  Rivka Zakutinsky best sums up the power of these sacred Yiddish texts:

“[Techinas are] the voice which women have used to approach God and to Serve Him…For God to be present in our most intimate daily experience –to commune with Him in the most private, unstructured moment, and to know that HE is there and ready to answer – therein lies the Blessing.”

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman