There is no question that music can play an important role in our lives. Like when a certain song comes up on the radio (or on your playlist), and immediately you can feel the wind on your face and smell the salty air as you are transported to the summer before 11th grade.
It is no less important in the lives of our children. As soon as I became a mom, I realized that everything could be put to a melody. We made up little ditties about our kids’ names, about the way they cried, and even about their cute tushies. Music put my little ones in a happy frame of mind in the morning, helped them settle down at the end of the day, and, in the words of William Congreve, has charms to soothe a savage breast. (Not a typo; he really meant breast.)
In my desire to help build their Jewish identities from the very start, I knew that I wanted to introduce Jewish music to my kids. I’d like to say that I made a conscious decision to do so from the very start. As in, day one. In the hospital. But it was more like an accident.
Our first child, Benjamin, was born after two very long days of labor. A few hours after he emerged, scrawny and cone-headed, he and I were alone and ready to go to sleep. Exhausted, I stroked his little cheek and sang the Shema, traditional words generations of Jews have recited before going to sleep: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad (Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One). From that moment, Jewish songs have been a part of our kids’ childhoods.
Here are six of our favorite Jewish songs. Some of them were written for kids; some are beloved by kids. All have become part of our family’s playlist.
1. Shema – Solomon Sulzer
This text, which first appears in Deuteronomy 6:4, is considered “the watchword of our faith.” Although this is not the only melody, it has been a classic since the late 1800s.
2. Bim Bam/Shabbat Shalom – Nachum Frankel
Easy words plus an easy melody makes this a great song for the littlest Jews. The optional hand motions are an added bonus.
3. Hinei Mah Tov – Jewish Folk melody
Traditionally sung in a round, the message of this song is about how wonderful it is when all people come together in peace.
4. Shalom Chaverim – Jewish Folk song
With a verse in Hebrew and one in English, this is a great way to teach kids that l’hitraot means we’ll see you again.
5. I’m Growing – Jeff Klepper
I just love this one because of its ethical and Jewish messages and the acknowledgement that growing older is an exciting time!
6. Af Peh Ozen – Jeff Klepper
“Every part of my body has a Hebrew name…” And this song will teach the very basics with an upbeat, lilting tune.
Niggun (Ah Di Dee Dai)
There are literally thousands of these wordless melodies. No Hebrew knowledge necessary. And very handy at 3 a.m. when your precious bundle of joy wants to be walked and you wouldn’t be able to remember the words anyway.