Tag Archives: Psalms

Jews of the Week: Idelsohn and Nathanson

Hava Nagila

Abraham Tzvi Idelsohn (1882-1938) was born in Latvia to a religious Jewish family. He studied to be a synagogue cantor. At 27, he made aliyah to Israel and worked as a musician and composer. In 1919, he opened a Jewish music school. A few years later, he left for Ohio where he served as professor of Jewish music at Hebrew Union College, the major seminary of Reform Judaism. Between 1914 and 1932 he published his ten-volume magnum opus, Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies. Many consider him “the father of Jewish musicology”. His most famous melody is undoubtedly ‘Hava Nagila’. In December of 1917, British army general Edmund Allenby defeated the Ottomans and conquered the Holy Land for Great Britain. The Jews of Israel were elated, and celebrated the general’s arrival in Jerusalem. They asked Idelsohn to compose a song for the special occasion. Idelsohn remembered an old happy tune he had adapted from a Hasidic niggun. The song was a hit. A few years later, he asked his music class to write words for the song.

A young Moshe Nathanson (1899-1981) was in that class, and wrote a couple of simple lines based on Scriptural verses from Psalm 118. The rest is history. Nathanson was born in Jerusalem, the son of a rabbi. In 1922 he moved to Canada and double-majored in law and music at McGill University. He ended up studying at what is now the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York. From there, he was hired to be the cantor of the first Reconstructionist Synagogue, and served in that role for the next 48 years. He wrote an important four-volume tome of liturgical songs. Nathanson also spent 10 years broadcasting Jewish music on American airwaves (“Voice of Jerusalem”) and dedicated much of his life to promoting Jewish folk music. Today, Nathanson’s and Idelsohn’s ‘Hava Nagila’ is the most recognizable Jewish/Hebrew song in the world, and a staple of every bar mitzvah and wedding. There is even a full-length documentary about it, called Hava Nagila (The Movie). This past year marked the song’s centennial anniversary.

Three Reasons to be Religious

Words of the Week

One who cannot survive bad times cannot see good times.
– Hasidic proverb

General Allenby’s December 1917 proclamation to the people of Jerusalem.

Jew of the Week: King David

Happy Shavuot!

David 1, Goliath 0

David ben Ishai (c. 907-837 BCE) Better known as King David, he unified the twelve tribes of Israel, prepared Jerusalem for its status as our eternal capital and defeated all of our enemies, namely the Philistines and their champion Goliath. [*Sidenote: he didn’t kill Goliath with a slingshot. He chopped his head off with the giant’s own sword.] Perhaps most famously, he is the author of the Book of Psalms – beloved by peoples worldwide, including Jews, Christians, and Gangsta Rappers (see below). David was a harpist and poet, shepherd and the youngest of 8 brothers. He ruled Israel for 40 years, and lived exactly 70, having been born and passed away on Shavuot.

Words of the Week

“Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” – King David, Psalm 23
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life, and realize there’s nothin’ left.” – Coolio, Gangster’s Paradise
“I shall fear no man, but God; Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” – 2Pac, So Many Tears