The first music I ever wrote was due to the encouragement of my mentor and friend, Rabbi Joel Wittstein (z”l). As Educational Director in the mid-1970’s of Isaac Mayer Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH, Joel suggested I take a semester off from regular classes to study something in Hebrew and then try setting it to music. Why he saw ”the music thing” in me before I did, I’ll never know. But I’m forever grateful that he did.
That was eleventh grade. I’d spent two summers at a Jewish summer camp (Goldman Camp in Zionsville, IN) and had learned lots of Hebrew prayers and songs but all in English letters. So when Joel asked me to choose something to learn in Hebrew, I settled on Kaddish, our prayer of remembrance for those who have died. I’d learned to mimic the Hebrew pronunciations but, once give the opportunity, I knew that was the prayer (and it’s a long one) that I wanted to study in its original language.
This, by the way, began a lifelong love affair with Hebrew that took me to rabbinical school, to Israel, and to studying and reading from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) many, many times throughout my life.
This recording was made in 1975. The sound quality is pretty awful because all I had back then was a cheap cassette tape recorder. Amy Liebschutz, a friend from Kindergarten onward and now an extraordinary vocalist in New York City who goes by the stage name of Amy London, sang for me. The tape earned us a place in the finals of Reform Judaism’s NFTY Song Competition that same year. Coming from Cincinnati where Amy and I were born and raised, traveling to New York for a North American competition was something special.
By the way, the organizers forgot to pick us up at the airport when we arrived so Amy and I had to find a shuttle into New York City, a subway to Port Authority, and a bus to Warwick, New York. I won’t say that was “special” but for two midwesterners it certainly was “something.” We were so happy to still be alive by the time we got there!
Oh, one more thing. We lost the competition. That was disappointing but it was still exciting to have been there. And guess who was sitting in the front row during the performances? A young lady named Ellen Siegel who was from Texas. I would meet Ellen two years further down the road when we landed at the same college, fell in love and got married.
Hope you enjoy this first work of mine.
Available for download (right-click on link to save):