Blog  NFTY-PAR: Appreciating Jewish Music

NFTY-PAR: Appreciating Jewish Music

By Ross M. Levy, MaLTY Advisor and Jewish Performer/Songwriter

I was so pleased to receive an email from the NFTY-PAR Advisor, Amanda Wachstein and the NFTY-PAR Regional Board asking me to lead the Music Appreciation chug at Hag/Mac. As a Jewish musician/performer, I was excited to hang with a group of students who would also be excited about Jewish music. I wanted to plan something awesome! Something that would blow their minds! I was…stumped. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure if it should be a listening session, a sharing of new music both in the Jewish and secular worlds or should it be something creative, like a composition session. It was only a few days away, and I still had no idea what I was going to do. I thought I’d leave it in the hand of fate and see if I would be inspired to do something awesome.

On the day of the event I got in my car with guitar in hand and still no clue as to what my program would entail. On the beautiful drive from Elkins Park to Kunkletown, I began thinking of a few Jewish texts that we could look at in order to be inspired. I immediately went to Psalm 133, Hinei Ma Tov. This would be perfect. The students who are coming to Hag/Mac are young and brand new and it would be a good text as we would all be coming together for the first time. Nah, that won’t do! Then I thought I’d change gears and think of my favorite NFTY songs when I was in NFTY. I remember the Feingold “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem,” as a classic crowd-pleaser. This song was Israeli folk that simply meant, “we bring the peace to you.” I laughed as I thought of the translation. What a cool line of Hebrew. We bring it! We bring the peace! Such a cool thing and a good message for new members of NFTY-PAR to know they are in a safe place where they can be themselves and feel, you guessed it, at peace.


Anyway, as I was driving up I began to hum a few bars of some simple melody. It was fun to sing and I couldn’t stop humming it. I didn’t want to forget it, so I hummed it for the final half hour of my drive up to camp. I arrived at Camp Harlam with not a moment to spare and burst into the beit (social hall) and saw a room filled with NFTY teens, some holding guitars and others, just hanging out. I told them I had an idea, and I wanted to take our time together to write a new song for NFTY. They were pumped to say the least! I shared my melody with them and they jumped all over it. They were work-shopping ideas for chord progressions and singing new words and adding English, it was buzzing! I was so excited to share a moment of creativity with so many students who all seemed to have the same love for Jewish music that I did. It was tremendous! This couldn’t have been planned! It was an organic musical moment I won’t ever forget.

We agreed on the key of the song, the final chord progression, and additional lyrics and BOOM we couldn’t stop singing. It was great! A room of a teenagers belting out the words, “Hey, hey, heiveinu shalom, shalom aleichem shalom, heiveinu shalom aleichem , aleichem shalom” over and over and over was hypnotic. The song really started grooving and you could tell we were all pleased with the final product. When we were done, and it was time to go snack, I saw the faces of the students in my group light up as they went to share the experience with their friends. It was very rewarding for me and I learned a lot from that music session. Sometimes it’s the music of our people that brings us together in a way that requires no conversation; in a way that reminds us of moments we have had on our own journey for Jewish identity; and sometimes in order to hit our creative and spiritual restart button we need to create something new with new friends, and sing a new song unto God.