Isn’t music miraculous? Think about it. When you hear a song, how many of you are instantly transported back to a memory from childhood long forgotten or prompted to call a friend or family member whom you haven’t spoken to in ages? Music can make us happy when nothing else seems to be working.
Music enables us to heal and gain a stronger sense of self. It is what the late Debbie Friedman refers to in her song, “Not by Might,” when she says, “the children sing; though their tears may fall you will hear them call and another song will rise.”
For me, music helps me maintain patience in tackling the struggles that come with living. It should come as no surprise then that we, the Jewish people, have a long history (5783 years to be exact) of utilizing the miraculous powers of music in our Jewish tradition to keep our connection with God and maintain our spirituality along with filling our hearts with hope and courage, especially on the darkest of nights. As the psalmist wrote, “come into the service of God singing joyously.” (Psalm 100:2). Forget about latkes, dreidel and jelly donuts; in my opinion, when it comes to celebrating Chanukah and lighting up the night, nothing ignites the spark more than singing the Chanukah songbook.
On Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, 180 people (a very chai number) filled the Lewkowitz Sanctuary at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society during the second Phoenix Sings Chanukah Sing-a-long led by four Phoenix area cantors (Todd Herzog, Dannah Rubinstein, Noa Shaashua and me), a new Jewish community choir from Congregation Beth Israel and singers from the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Creative Aging program.
The concert featured new Chanukah hits like “Light Up the Night” by Jewish rocker Jacob Spike Kraus and “Be A Light” by Rabbi Neal Katz. What really got the crowd singing were the “oldies but goodies” like “Not by Might” and “I am a Latke” by Debbie Friedman, “Ocho Kandelikas” by Flory Jagoda, “Light One Candle” by Peter Yarrow, the folk melodies of Mi Yimalel and S’vivon and a closing mashup of Maoz Tzur and “Loves Me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon which brought everyone to their feet.
It was the first time since prior to the pandemic where the Jewish community came together to sing and for the majority of the group that gathered, it was a much-needed experience of comfort. Not only did congregants come but Jews who do not have a spiritual home came as well. The highlight for me was seeing members of the Gesher Disability Resources community stand up and dance a hora together. Aside from the financial success in that we raised several thousand dollars for camp scholarships through the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix Community Camp Fund, the level of engagement we were able to cultivate with those who came was unprecedented. I know this was a flame that will last throughout until next Chanukah. We look forward to brightening the light of Chanukah next year with all of you at our third Phoenix Sings Chanukah Sing-a-long on Dec. 2, 2023. Until then, continue being a light and may it be a happy and healthy 2023 for all. JN
Cantor Seth Ettinger is the cantor of Congregation Beth Israel in Phoenix and the creator of the Phoenix Sings Chanukah Sing-a-long.
Jewish News is published by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, a component of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix.