Tuesday, September 1, 2009

American Jewish Music and Chaim Fogelman

Jewish music in the exile always seems to blend a little (or a lot) with local forms. Spanish Jewish music has a Spanish sound. Hungarian music picks up local influences. And Russian Jewish music has elements that are unmistakeably taken from Russian music. Some of my favourite chassidic songs have lyrics that have Russian lyrics such as Nyet Nyet Nikavo. A friend of mine who grew up in the USSR told me that the melody to "Nyet Nyet Nikavo" is from a communist song. Jews who lived in apartment buildings did not want to fall under suspicion of disloyalty to the revolution. If neighbours heard the sound of a known communist song, they were not likely to report a suspicious gathering. By putting words which say," There is nothing but G-d. He is one and His Name is one." to a communist melody, it is very likely to be overlooked.

I have lived in America for most of my life. The first language I spoke was English. Jews have been in America for almost 400 years. It makes sense for the music of Jews in America to take on some the English language and fuse it with Jewish elements, much as Yiddish fused German and Hebrew. In the last 40 years, American Jews who had lost their Yiddish but returned to Judaism have been creating American Jewish music. It is an exciting subgenre that I find intriguing and captivating. At the same time, Hebrew as a spoken language has been developing in exciting new ways. As fond as I am of Hebrew and Yiddish, English will always have a special place in my heart.

One particularly gifted performer in the field of Jewish music in English is Chaim Fogelman. I found this video of his on You Tube. The song talks about the beauty of life and its trials. It mentions the World Trade Center in a stirring way.

There is a famous story which has become a part of nondenominational American inspirational folklore. In the story, someone has a vision of walking with G-d and leaving two sets of footprints. Looking down at the sands of their past life, they see one set of footprints and criticise G-d for leaving them. At this point G-d says." One set of footprints disappeared when you fell and I was carrying you. It is your footprints that disappeared and not mine." This theme is worked very nicely into the song. Footage of the Western Wall makes it clear that a Torah frame of reference is Fogelman's wellspring of inspiration. I consider Fogelman's music to be one of my more fortunate musical discoveries. I am happy to share it with my readers.


Chaim Fogelman's web site

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