Essay: A (mostly) Jewish soundtrack
As Dr Jeff London reflects on the soundtrack of his life, he realizes that music with a Jewish influence has been a big part of the melodies that sustain him.
I Ilove music. From listening to music to singing and writing songs, music has always been there to help me enjoy the good times and deal with the bad times. As I reflect on the soundtrack of my life, I realize that music with a Jewish influence has been a big part of the melodies that sustain me.
My first musical memory was when I was very young, sitting on a piano bench with my mom, listening, while she played and sang a song with very weird funny words. “Oh, Jeffrey is sitting on the chairella and playing the fortisch piano, and Sheila is dancing the dancella, Ay yai yai yai yai yai!” Oy the Shayna maidele, kinderle klain, kinderle klain… ”
I had no idea what she was singing. But it was sweet and funny and usually ended with a laugh together. I found out later that we would often switch to more familiar songs and performance tunes, written by Jewish composers like Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers or Sammy Cahn. By then, a sense of Jewishness had taken hold.
considered a central part of the songs that I started to sing and love. My mother had started teaching me how music could make you laugh and soothe your soul.
My wife remembers her mother singing lullabies to her in Yiddish at bedtime. And many years later, when she sang “Oyfn Pripetchik” to our children and then to our grandchildren before a well-deserved nap, she remembered her mother’s sweet voice helping her fall asleep. .
Jewish holidays are often filled with music (as well as food!). For my mother’s family, the Eisenbergs, the family seder was the most important Jewish event of the year. Very early on, each child was asked if he was ready to ask the Kasches fir (Four questions). I remember how proud my parents were when each of their three children sang for the whole mishpachah, showing that we had practiced our Hebrew. And when my own children reached the age where they felt ready to sing for their supper, I too would smile and rejoice in their young attempts. My Neshtanah.
Meeting with the guitar (and my Beshert)
Fast forward to my teenage years… to folk music and AZA and BBG. Although these groups had many purposes, AZA provided a way to meet Jewish girls, other than the girls in my school. Holidays and Oneg Shabbat were the occasion, but I quickly learned the truth: to meet girls, you had to talk to girls. Not so easy. Around the same time, my friend Eddie suggested that we take a group beginner guitar lesson at the JCC. Eddie lasted about two weeks; I have been learning guitar for about 60 years.
I quickly understood that a guitar was a wonderful ally in the evenings. I could meet girls without having to talk to girls. Singing folk songs with them was so much less painful. And that plan led to the day of January 1966, when I found myself strumming with a young girl named Leslie who had also brought her guitar to an Oneg Shabbat. involving my chapter and his.
And, although she wasn’t very happy with my “way too loud” guitar playing, she forgave me enough to agree to a date, which ultimately led to our singing together (mostly in harmony) throughout our 50+ year marriage. And songs like “Dona Dona”, “Sunrise Sunset”, “Homeward Bound”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Happy Together” (all composed by Jews) have been a constant source of strength and support for our relationship, through all the ups and downs of life.
Raising a family
As our kids got older, we taught them our favorite songs and figured they knew all the words. We reached Temple Emanu-El then Temple Israel. We got involved in both temples, in the best way we knew… by singing.
I’ve always been adept at writing song parodies for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. And my parodies found a (usually) welcome audience at both temples with “hits” such as “People are always friendly at Emanu-El Temple” (to the tune of “Under the Sea”), “Super Challah Matzoh, Tzimmes, Liver and Charosis “and” The Totally Uplifting Yom Kippur Mind Shifting Parking at the Temple Blues “and brilliant stupid lyrics like” You must remember that a break is just a break, a chai is just a cellar; pastrami always does better on rye over time.
We also started to create new traditions in our house. At a conference for Bnai Mitzvot parents, a rabbi gave some simple but excellent advice on creating a more Jewish home on Shabbat: “Do something. So we started chanting some prayers and lighting Shabbat candles. Bim bom, Shabbat shalom and the prayers around wine and challah made the difference.
My wife and I joined a Temple Israel choir, lovingly led by Cantor Neil Michaels, giving us something we could do together, her as a viola and I as a baritone. The singing cemented our involvement in the temple and helped make the Kabbalat Shabbat services more meaningful and spiritual. And even when COVID prevented us from attending services, we could still listen and sing along to Zoom from our kitchen table.
Jumping many years forward, I remember how singing helped us feel connected with our aging parents. Leslie’s father and mother were deceased, which left my mother-in-law, Eileen, and my father, Leon, the matriarch and patriarch of our family. And when we got together, after dinner, we often took out sheet music from their time, and I improvised the chords and we found out what “oldies but goodies” really meant! And when Leon and then Eileen gradually reached the last days of their lives, we sang with them and for them at their bedside.
So what happens comes back. Leslie sings to our grandchildren and her mother’s bedside. My mother, instilling the joy of singing in me, which I then passed on to my children and grandchildren (and everyone who will listen to my songs). Sing the seder with these old tunes to maintain family traditions. My grandson is learning to play the guitar and sings Beatles songs with me. My granddaughter sings softly in musicals and in the temple youth choir.
Hopefully, next Passover, Daddy and Grandma collapse as one of the youngest members of our family dares to ask the four questions for the first time. And, in many years, I can only hope that my grandchildren will remember their daddy singing songs that I wrote especially for them on each of their birthdays. And when they remember our family singing together at the seder table, maybe at least one of my grandchildren will show one of their children the only appropriate way (Eisenberg) to sing “Adir Hu” (after the men have finished washing the dishes)!
Dr Jeff London is a retired Farmington Hills child psychiatrist.