No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Joshua Breitzer

On the third day of Sukkot, Jews welcome the spirits of Jacob and his first wife Leah, the “baby momma” for most of his children and older sister of his true love Rachel (who visits us tomorrow). Rabbinic and scholarly commentaries across the centuries are rife with interpretations about Jacob’s relationship with his wives.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

Isaac and Rebekah, the ushpizin (sacred ancestral spirits) Jews welcome on the second day of Sukkot, are notorious for the all-too human dimensions of their relationship. The Torah describes Rebekah atop a camel, beautifully dressed, on her way to meet Isaac for the first time. She is so smitten by him that she falls off the camel, a veritable victim of love at first sight.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

This week, Jewish communities all over the world are exhaling, having made it to the end of the High Holiday season. Today begins Sukkot, an eight-day festival filling a number of purposes: the Biblical account of surviving 40 years in the wilderness; the bounty of the fall harvest; and, perhaps most importantly, the miracle of life in all its fragile, temporal beauty.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

This most iconic and instantly recognizable sacred Jewish song has had a lot of treatments over the many centuries it’s been around. While the Aramaic lyrics are quite a mouthful even for a native Hebrew speaker, a surprising number of mainstream pop singers have tried to make the prayer their own, including Al Jolson, Neil Diamond, Perry Como – and Johnny Mathis! In this revealing interview, he describes Kol Nidrei as “…so emotionally driven that I got, I would say, 95% of the words correct.” As I do my best to make this prayer my own tonight, together with cantors all over the world, I will try to remember what inspired Johnny to do the same.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

One of my resolutions this year is to think more about the “other”—the other person, the other point of view, the other side of the world. As you might imagine, Judaism has a lot to say about it. The great rabbi Hillel, who lived in the earliest days of the Common Era, wondered “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”




 |  Joshua Breitzer

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I think becoming a father has made me a better person in every way. It has also given me new insight into all the father figures I’ve known, and, especially at this time of year—to use appropriate prayer book parlance—into the notion of a Heavenly Father.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

We like to think of Irving Berlin as one of the most quintessentially American songwriters, but like so many of them, he had his roots elsewhere. He wrote this little-known tune for Fanny Brice in 1925, soon after legislation had been passed placing quotas on immigration. In this live recording by the incomparable Judy Blazer and NYFOS’s own Michael Barrett, listen for lyrics like “There’s millions of people on the shore / Why can’t you make room for just one more” and marvel at how relevant Berlin’s piece still is.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

The High Holy Days have arrived yet again, the busiest time of a cantor’s year. I find that a song without words (Hebrew: nigun) puts my heart and mind at ease more than any other. When composing this one, my friend and teacher Joey Weisenberg was inspired by the famous phrase in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye” (Hebrew: nachamu).




 |  Joshua Breitzer

Jews liken the oral and written tradition to an ever-living, ever-flourishing source of inspiration. The text of “Eitz Chayim” is always sung when returning the Torah scrolls to the ark, along with a prayer to “renew our days as of old.” The late composer, teacher and scholar Dr. Jack Gottlieb wrote his setting of it for the 1970 New Year’s Service for Young People and dedicated the piece to Cantor Barbara Ostfeld, the first woman to be ordained a cantor.