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Endnote: The Prayer in Our Hearts

September 28, 2017

ENDNOTE: The Prayer in Our Hearts

RIKI GOLDSTEIN

“Be’ein Meilitz Yosher” sung by the London School of Jewish Song is over forty years old, but you still might be hearing it this Yom Kippur

September 28, 2017

 

 

Come Join in Our Song

Composer/chazzan Jeffrey Craimer’s niggun is the prayer in our hearts 

The distinctive “Be’ein Meilitz Yosher” sung by the London School of Jewish Song is over forty years old, but you still might be hearing it this Yom Kippur in shul. 

Today the composer of that classic is enjoying retirement in Eretz Yisrael, but Mr. Jeffrey (Yisroel) Craimer has been serving as a baal tefillah since his youth in Manchester, UK. After his marriage, Craimer moved to London, where he collaborated with Yigal Calek on the latter’s groundbreaking recordings with the London Pirchim Choir, also known as the London School of Jewish Song, under the label Yad Bezemer Productions. Most of the composing was done by Calek, but Craimer was responsible for a few hit songs on the first two albums, such as “Be’ein Meilitz Yosher” and “Bamarom” (from the Borchi Nafshi album) and “Hamavdil bein Kodesh Lechol” (from the Ma Navu album). His compositions are youthful and earnest, sincere but not overly intense, suited to the young voices of a boys’ choir. 

In 1971, when the plight of Soviet Jewry peaked, activists approached Yigal Calek to produce a music record in conjunction with the demonstrations outside the Soviet Embassy. An evening of music and speeches was arranged in a London concert hall, and a mini commemorative record produced by Yad Bezemer titled Children of Silence contained four songs. The title track was sung by Yigal Calek and the choir, with Craimer’s powerful lyrics: 

“Children of Silence, I hear your voice crystal clear, a voice with a sadness, a voice with a tear / When will those chains of despair in my heart be broken and torn away? / When will the curtain of loneliness part to cast a light of freedom on my day? 

“Come join in my song, come bridge a thousand miles; your harmony I long, your voice, your hand, your smiles…”
 

“Children of Silence,” with additional lyrics in French and words from the Rosh Hashanah davening ( “Ata zocher maasei olam… Haben yakir li Efraim…”) was recorded on the Ashirah — London School of Jewish Song/Neginah Orchestra album. 

Another gem on the mini album was Craimer’s composition for “Ezkerah,” set to one of the most passionate Selichos of the Ne’ilah prayer. Sung on the record by Chazzan Pesach Segal, whose 50 years as chazzan at Hendon Adass Yisroel Congregation ended in 2012, this heartrending piece of music — telling how although Yerushalayim has fallen we haven’t lost our hope and ask Hashem to count His people’s tears and sorrows — has become a highlight of Ne’ilah in shuls all over Europe, 

Craimer says that he had only basic piano training, but he comes from a deeply musical family. “Be’ein Meilitz Yosher” came to him with the words, while “Ezkerah” was a wordless niggun that Calek then set to the powerful words from Ne’ilah. 

Commercially, the album was not a success, compared to other London School of Jewish Song albums — “it cost a lot to record and produce, but people didn’t want to buy it because there were only four tracks, unlike the full-length records,” Mr. Craimer explains. But on Yom Kippur his composition comes in to its own in the most meaningful form of music — an outpouring of prayer. 

After making aliyah, Mr. Craimer continued to serve as a baal tefillah in Jerusalem and his new hometown of Beitar Illit, where his family has lived for the past two decades. He was privileged to learn his nusach directly from the legendary baal tefillah Reb Herschel Goldstein, who was his neighbor when he grew up on Leigh Street in Manchester. 

“Reb Herschel’s nusach was basically a Chevron nusach, as he had learned in Chevron yeshivah in Jerusalem, but it also included some parts from his own father. In my days, Reb Herschel davened Shacharis in Machzikei Hadass, then walked to the Manchester Yeshivah [led by Rav Yehuda Zev Segal] where he leined and davened Mussaf. He was immensely musical and his nusach spread to many, many yeshivos and shuls, particularly in England. It was very different from the old Anglo nusach. As a young baal tefillah, I asked Reb Herschel to record some of his nusach for me, and I still have those tapes. It’s only a shame that I was too shy to ask him to record more.” 
                                               

The Story Behind the Song

“Teardrop Revisited” 
Rabbi Nachman Seltzer grabs onto the power of a zeidy’s cry 

A child of assimilated parents spends Yom Kippur with his zeidy in the shtibel, watching the old man pray with fervor and always sobbing at the same, predictable place. When Zeidy leaves This World and his Yom Kippur machzor is received to his grandson, he thumbs through to find the tearstains — and finds his own name penned in the margins of the ancient machzor, next to the plea “Avinu Malkeinu chamol aleinu ve’al olaleinu vetapeinu — Have mercy on us and on our young children.” The prayerful tears come full circle, and the grandson returns to his roots. 

Rabbi Nachman Seltzer says that the story of “Teardrop Revisited” came to him on Yom Kippur, and that Motzaei Yom Kippur he wrote it up into a story for Horizons magazine. 

“When I was young,” says Rabbi Seltzer, “my mother used to listen to a song by Moshe Yess. It was called ‘Zeidy.’ Art Raymond said that ‘Zeidy’ was the most requested song in all his years on the radio. There’s just something about a zeidy. 

“A year later, when I produced my album Visions, this story came back to me. I wrote the tune first. Then I sat down and wrote the lyrics. I’ve found that people love this song. Maybe because it reminds them of Yom Kippur when they were young. Maybe because it reminds them of the power of a teardrop. 

“Or maybe because it reminds them of their own zeidy, whom they loved so very much.” 

The Best Advocate

It’s over 30 years old, but recently MBD’s setting of “Be’ein Meilitz Yosher” has been dusted off and seen a surge in popularity. The song was selected and re-recorded by Yaakov Shwekey for the MBD medley on his nostalgic Those Were the Days album, and the original song from MBD’s Let My People Go album (1986) has been a bestseller this Elul season, according to Gitty Raindel of MostlyMusic. 

In MBD’s rendition, the timeless words, “If there is no advocate to stand against the reporters of sin, may You tell of Yaakov’s [adherence] to laws and statutes, and vindicate us in the judgment,” are introduced by soft strings that then rise in supplication, with the high part soaring in a range of notes as a solemn plea, but also backed with undertones of resolution and certainty. These days, with everyone feeling so spiritually vulnerable, the niggun is like a haven of hope for a chasimah tovah. 


Moshe Goldman’s Yom Kippur niggunim still ignite tishen around the world 

Composer Moshe Goldman z”l is known for hundreds of hauntingly beautiful songs, and for his strong soul connection to the Bobover chassidus. But his son Reb Yaakov Goldman of Brooklyn says that his father’s tunes have traveled to other courts as well. “A few years ago, at the Motzaei Yom Kippur tish in Belz Yerushalayim, the Rebbe requested that they sing my father’s song ‘Zochreinu Lechayim.’ Belz don’t allow many new songs in to the tishen, but now ‘Zochreinu Lechayim’ is a regular there at this time of year.” 

Goldman’s ‘Zochreinu Lechayim’ (from the Camp Shalva — Kenesher album) has a mellow, warm tune and a lilting high part that has captured many hearts, but its approval by the Rebbe has closed a circle: Reb Moshe Goldman actually grew up in Jerusalem and attended cheder together with the future Belzer Rebbe. 

Meanwhile, in Satmar in Monroe, Reb Moshe’s “Melech Shochen Ad,” sung by Isaac Honig on his Behar Hamoriah album, has become part of the Erev Yom Kippur tish, its high part, “Melech maazin shavah,” a passionate and musical plea that is sung again and again by Honig and the crowd of chassidim to awaken Heavenly mercy. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 679) 

 


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