The Music of the High Holidays


Last Fall, I had the privilege of speaking at Presbyterian Homes in Evanston.  My topic was Music of the High Holy Days. Jews and non-Jews gathered in the Chapel of Westminster Place, as I sang and spoke about traditional melodies for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The staff recorded my session, and graciously gifted me a copy. I have uploaded the music to SoundCloud, and share it with you: A few of these melodies I would like to highlight, to help aurally prepare you for the season.

Many people consider the quintessential melody of the High Holy Days to be Max Janowski’s setting of Avinu Malkeinu. Max Janowski was a composer, conductor and choir director, and served as the Music Director of KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park from 1938 until his death in 1991. Many people in our congregation grew up singing with Janowski, including our own Rabbi, Michael Weinberg. At Temple Beth Israel, we use several of Janowski’s most famous melodies to punctuate our High Holy Day services, including: Tavo L’fanecha, Adonai, Adonai, and Sim Shalom.

On Erev Yom Kippur, we recite a prayer known as Kol Nidrei (All Vows).  It is a prayer so central to the liturgy, that the evening is known as Kol Nidrei. The melody of Kol Nidrei is considered Mi Sinai, as if it was given to us from God at Mount Sinai, it is that much a part of our musical heritage. The arrangement of this melody that we sing is composed by Herbert Fromm and arranged by Samuel Adler. Fromm’s genius sets the melody with a heart-wrenching cello part, in duet with the gorgeous choral harmonies and piano.

A final melody to consider as we enter this season of awe, introspection and repentance, is the folk melody Hashiveinu. The text of Hashiveinu states, “Turn us back, turn us back to You, O God, and then we will be returned. Renew our days as of old.” It is a message that reminds me to look inward, to do the work of replenishing myself so I can be whole enough to share in the work of Tikkun Olam.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Shanah Tovah U’mtukah

From my family to yours, we wish you a sweet and healthy New Year 5779!

With joy and blessings,

Marla Aviva Bentley

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