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A Song for Every Season

Riki Goldstein

Influencers map out their personal musical soundtracks

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

As we drive, as we clean, as we put our children to bed; as we connect to our Creator or seek solace or inspiration; somehow there’s always a melody playing the background.

Over the years, those melodies become the soundtrack forever connected to a moment or mood. Which songs accompany you throughout the moments of your life?

We asked a group of influencers to map out their personal musical soundtracks



Shai Markowitz

Rabbi Shai Markowitz is director of the Lefkowitz Leadership Initiative at Agudath Israel of America, collaborating author of The Six Constant Mitzvos (ArtScroll/Mesorah), and was founding director of Shivisi, a broad-based curriculum helping young people build a meaningful relationship with Hashem. (

 A song that takes me back to my childhood  My father worked in construction, and on Erev Shabbos we’d play the Journeys “It’s Time to Say Good Shabbos” over and over: So throw away your hammer, there’s nothing left to do / Go on home and find the gift, that’s waiting there for you / It’s time to say Good Shabbos ’cuz all your work is done. Gonna spend the day together with The Holy One…

 What we sing when we clean for Pesach Abie Rotenberg’s memorable song “Pesach Blues,”  Journeys III.

 What we play in the car on Chol Hamoed trips We listen to whatever my kids want, but when my wife takes a turn to choose, she always asks for Yanky and the Pesach Seder.

 My all-time favorite album I’m not much of an album type, but it could be any of the vintage Journeys and Destiny albums. Each song is filled with meaning and emotion.

 A song that made me want to go look up a pasuk Well, looking up the words to a song actually ended up leading me to work on a sefer. One Erev Pesach I was in Eretz Yisrael, cleaning while listening to a song from Yitzchak Rosedale with the words “Shesh mitzvos shechayav bahem tamid.” I was intrigued and wanted to know where this came from. The album cover referred me to the first Biur Halachah in Mishnah Berurah, taken from the Sefer HaChinuch. And that led to a wonderful journey, learning about the Six Constant Mitzvos from my rebbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, which culminated with the book and a corresponding program in 45 high schools across the US.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days “Esa Einai,” from Shalsheles Vol. 1, was a song I’d sing looking out at the hills around Yerushalayim from my dorm room. It came to life there and always gets me thinking about those wonderful days in Eretz Hakodesh, and the certain knowledge that success will only come if I rely on Hashem.

 An English song that strikes a special chord A recent English song that I’ve found powerful is Yaakov Shwekey’s “Your Time,” written by my good friend Yisroel Besser. The song is loaded with meaning — about how everyone has ups and downs, but you have to believe in yourself and your mission, who you are, and most importantly, know that Hashem believes in you. Then we each have our moment to shine — face the world and show it! This is your time!

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)


 Nachum Segal

Nachum Segal hosts JM in the AM (Jewish Moments in the Morning) weekdays from 6–9 a.m. ET on and the Nachum Segal Network app.

 A song that’s too complicated for me to sing, but I still love hearing   Avraham Fried’s “Aderaba.” It’s one of many incredible songs that are just too complex for an average person. And yes, people still request it all the time on JM in the AM.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days Remember “VeliYerushalayim Ircha” from D’veykus III? That came out during my years at YU, and we’d sing it a lot. In fact, it was the song I chose to walk down to at my wedding.

 A song that made me want to go look up a pasuk “Uva’u Ha’ovdim” by Shlomo Carlebach. I heard that song from Carlebach himself when I was in high school, and it’s the kind of song and sentiment you want to find the source for.

 A kumzitz song that really talks to me Eitan Katz’s “Lemaancha” is a very good one. It’s truly inspiring, and the recorded live versions are something special.

 A song that takes me back to my childhood One of MBD’s  early hits, “I’d Rather Pray and Sing.” When I was a kid, I had a friend who would team up with me to do make-believe Jewish music concerts, and MBD hits like that one were always on the playlist. Whenever I hear it, it takes me back there.

 My favorite Kedushah niggun The profound Hebrew tune known as “Al Kol Eileh” (composed by Naomi Shemer in 1980 as a protest to uprooting Jewish communities in Sinai) is a popular choice in my shul, and I find it a perfect fit. Very inspiring and emotional.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)


 Elchanan Schwarz

 Elchanan Schwarz is a psychotherapist and director of crisis intervention for BINA Stroke and Brain Injury Assistance. After hours, he’s the voice of Fiveish, Oorah’s lovable five-dollar-bill mascot.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days The Telsher “Keil Adon” — the Mechinah version. For the uninitiated, Telshe has two versions of “Keil Adon,” one sung in the beis medrash and one in the Mechinah. Both are heirloom editions — maybe they brought them along from Lita?

 The hit dance song when I got married  The high-energy “Zachreini Na” by Dov Shurin really rocked.

 An English song that strikes a special chord “The Place Where I Belong,” by Abie Rotenberg, about a sefer Torah from Kiev. I remember listening to the song as a kid in the car with my grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor. At the line referring to Jews in America being ones he did not recognize, she, who almost never referenced the war, turned to me and asked, “Do you know what that means?” I did. But I froze and couldn’t answer.

 My favorite Kedushah niggun  Yom Tov Ehrlich's "Yakob” (worth every minute).

 A song that takes me back to my childhood That would be the London School of Jewish Song’s “Vechi Yadav Shel Moshe” — I listened to those cannons over and over (for those of you who remember that famous intro).

The only song I know the line dance to  “Tzavei Yeshuos Yakov,” Cleveland Heights Khal Yereim version (clockwise x3, counterclockwise x2, switch sefer Torah hand, repeat as needed).

 An album I really love So hard to choose just one. MBD’s Hold On is one I really enjoy that seems to have gotten lost. Also,  Avraham Fried’s Aderaba, which has gem after gem, MBD’s The Double Album, The Longest Pesach, Dveykus 4, and Megama by Moshe Yess.

 Our favorite Seder niggun It’s a close call between the German version of Adir Hu written by the Shelah Hakadosh, which my father sings after the Seder and, l’havdil, Moshe Oysher’s Chad Gadya, which is a strange-enough piece that my sister-in-law thought I made it up myself because I drank too much (until she heard it years later on Shulem Lemmer’s CD).

 What we sing at the Shabbos table  The Oorah Zemiros, obviously!

 My favorite kumzitz song “Nafshenu Chiksa” by Rabbi Baruch Chait. I walked down to the chuppah to that song.

 A song that’s too complicated for me to sing, but I still love hearing “Mipnei Chata’einu,” by Moshe Koussevitsky. ( Actually, I think I could do it with practice, but the neighbors, you know....)

 A song that gives me chizuk  “Why Does Everybody Make So Much Fun of Me?” Marvelous Middos Machine Vol. 1

What I sing to my kids when I put them to sleep “Yeder Mensch.” It’s a haunting old Novardoker song about sechar v’onesh, din v’cheshbon, chibbut hakever, etc.

A song that made me want to go look up a pasuk  “Lo Yimalet”  by Baruch Shalom. I wanted to see how many times it actually says those words. Turns out just once.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)

Yedidya Meir

Yedidya Meir is an Orthodox Israeli journalist, satirist, political commentator, and popular morning radio show host. He also has a weekly program together with his wife, Israeli television reporter Sivan Rahav-Meir, who has become famous for her nationally broadcast Torah shiurim.

 What we sing when we clean for Pesach   Pesach cleaning is when we listen to all the shallow upbeat music that I usually stay away from — it gets us into the rhythm and makes the work go faster. I guess every song has its moment.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days The songs of Rabbi Baruch Chait. I learned in his yeshivah, Maarava, and every Thursday night for mishmar, he’d give a shiur followed by a kumzitz featuring his new songs. Some of those songs became major hits, but we heard them first. Now, 30 years later, he’s still at it, and I occasionally have the privilege of listening in on those Thursday night kumzitzes again, because my oldest son is learning there too.

 An English song that strikes a special chord I have a soft spot for all of MBD’s, Avraham Fried’s, and the Miami Boys Choir’s English songs. It’s not just the songs themselves, it’s also the whole idea of writing songs with original English lyrics — expressing timeless values of Torah, tefillah, and achdus in a style and language that speak to the younger generation. But if I have to pick a favorite, two English songs that describe Shabbos in Yerushalayim still get me emotional although they’ve been around for ages: MBD’s “Just One Shabbos,” and Yerachmiel Begun’s “Shabbos Yerushalayim.”

 What we play in the car on Chol Hamoed trips Usually when I drive, I listen to songs that haven’t been released to the public yet. I get demos and sketches from musical friends like Shuli Rand, Bini Landau, Yonatan and Aharon Razel, and Naftali Kempeh.

 A song that made me want to go look up a pasuk Many composers prompted me to pick up a Tehillim, but the composer who got me to open up a Ramchal is Yossi Green with his “Omnom Hineh Zeh Hu,” sung by Dedi Graucher. I had to learn those words inside the sefer to really understand the song.

 A song that takes me back to my childhood  All of MBD’s early albums: Pray and Sing, Memories, Hold On, V’chol Maaminim. Those are the songs I grew up with.

 A kumzitz song that really talks to me Any song composed by my friend Rav Hillel Paley. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make any recordings of his own singing, but I get unofficial recordings of kumzitzes where he sings. No one comes close.

 What we sing at the Shabbos table   We don’t sing much of what’s termed “chassidic music.” I guess you might say we sing more “litvish music” – the songs that were passed down from my great-grandfather, Rav Refael Kook, who was chief rabbi of Teveria, or from my other great-grandfather, Rav Dov Katz, who wrote the sefer Tenuas Hamussar. They both grew up in Lithuania, those are the songs they sang at home, and that’s what we sing.

 My favorite Kedushah niggun Carlebach’s “Mimkomcha” — not the standard, popular one, but the complex operatic piece that appears on his first album.

 A song that gives me chizuk There are so many, and I’m so grateful to the singers who give us these melodies. But when I hear the pure voice of Yosef Karduner, I literally feel like I’ve just immersed in a mikveh.

 Our favorite Seder niggun It’s no one specific song, but we follow the nusach that my grandfather Reb Aharon Meir used to chant. I assume he inherited it from his father back in Hungary. He wasn’t particularly musical — maybe even the opposite — but to me, his nusach is synonymous with Leil HaSeder.

 What I sing to my kids when i put them to sleep I wish. The minute I sit down beside their beds, I fall asleep myself.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)

Rav Gav Friedman

Originally from New York, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman (a.k.a. Rav Gav) has spent the last decade studying and teaching in various yeshivos in Jerusalem, and is currently a popular lecturer at Aish HaTorah. He’s also a rising star on the Jewish speaking circuit, and has become an inspirational lecturer around the world.

 An album I really love There’s a certain album by classic guitarist C. Landzbom called Beyond This World. It features a selection of Shlomo Carlebach’s songs, and the music is beautiful.

 A song that made me want to go look up a pasuk “Kol Hanechalim,” composed and sung by Ari Goldwag. What a beautiful song and profound meaning. Ari still hasn’t released it, but he gave it out to people who were involved in the pre-release campaign for his Am Echad album. There is a second part of the song, a fascinating section from the Sefer Hayetzirah about silencing our mouths and our thoughts.

 Our favorite Seder niggun Yonaton Razel's “Vehi She’amdah.” And of course the classic Chad Gadya. Usually, it's a solo-act, as some of the kids are either sleeping or have run away from sheer embarrassment from their father's animal noises.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days When I learned at Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, during Ahavah Rabbah in Shabbos Shacharis, we used to sing the slow, meaningful niggun to “Avinu av harachaman, hameracheim racheim aleinu…” composed by Reb Chaim Banet. Hearing it always takes me back there.

 A song that gives me chizuk Shlomo Carlebach’s “Anah Hashem… Ani avdecha ben amasecha.” It’s still beautiful after all these years. I remember that when I came back from learning in Eretz Yisrael one time, I sat down at the piano and played it for three hours straight. Don’t remind my sisters of that, please.

 My favorite Kedushah niggun Carlebach’s tune for “Besheim Hashem Elokei Yisrael” is a beautiful choice. I remember hearing that song for the first time from someone I met in Florida, and later it became more meaningful when my wife walked down the aisle to it. A close runner-up would be “Machnisei Rachamim.”

 An album I really love My personal favorite was the very first Modzhitz record from the late 1950s, titled Melaveh Malkah. It was published on a 10-inch disc, not the 12-inch LP that was common for many years. I remember it as a young kid, and the classics “Bemotzoei,” “Tal,” and “Hamavdil” are still alive and well today.

 A song that’s too complicated for me to sing, but I still love hearing Several Modzhitz pieces, known as “operas,” have many parts and variable tempos that are too difficult to sing, but still impress me to the extreme.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)

Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twerski

Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twerski is a renowned psychologist and Brooklyn-based mental health professional. For over three decades, he’s been a leading voice in the Orthodox community on the issue of addictions and shalom bayis.

 Our favorite Seder niggun My personal favorite is the singsong in which we recite the Haggadah.  It’s probably nothing of great musical quality, but the associations are heavenly.

 A song that takes me back to my childhood Various ancient niggunim without words that come from chassidishe archives were often used for zemiros and in shul when I was a child.  Many are still alive, well, and popular. The words were either la la la, or da da da.

 My favorite kumzitz niggun One favorite was a niggun to “Ve’eineinu Sirenah.” I don’t know the origin, but it was sung in two parts simultaneously, which made a great harmony. Not that I recall any kumzitzes in my own yeshivah days, but we’d have extended Shabbos seudahs with lots of singing. And at family simchahs, we sing traditional niggunim from the family.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days Those would be some Modzhitz classics, including “Shoshanas Yaakov,” “Mizmor L’Dovid” and others, some Carlebach, and a few homespun niggunim. I sometimes meet old chaveirim who remember some of my compositions, and eventually, I published them in an album called Vechonen in 2010.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish is a state representative in the Illinois House of Representatives, and the first Orthodox Jew to serve in the Illinois House. Prior to this recent appointment, he spent over ten years at Agudath Israel of America, focusing on governmental advocacy in state capitals across the country.

 What I sing to my kids when I put them to sleep When my children were younger I would always sing the original “Hamalach” and then switch to the Shloimy Dachs version (even though he skipped some of the words).

 A song that’s too complicated for me to sing, but I still love hearing   I love Yiddish songs but I just can’t sing along — I tend to mess up all the words. I still try, though, and people have fun with me as I do.

 The hit dance song when I got married   “Sameach” by Mendy Wald and “Hu Klal” by Yisroel Williger. Both were played at our wedding.

 A kumzitz song that really talks to me First place is MBD’s “Achas Shoalti,” but a close second is the original “Bilvavi,” composed by Rabbi Shmuel Brazil to words by Rav Yitzchok Hutner.

 A song that takes me back to my yeshivah days During my years in yeshivah, I used to lead the zemiros. We always started our slow niggunim with MBD’s “Achas Shoalti” from his early V’Chol Maaminim album. It’s always been my favorite niggun, and recently I learned it was written by Yitzy Weissberg. Today, as a baal tefillah, I use it for Adir Adireinu at the end of Kedushah of Yom Tov Mussaf.

 What we sing when we clean for Pesach Everything goes in our  home during Pesach cleaning. We listen to anything with a beat.

 A song that gives me chizuk Back in 2001, MBD came out with an album called Maaminim b’nei Maaminim. The lead track on that album always gets me in a good mood.

 An album I really love MBD is my favorite artist, so his MBD and Friends album, as well as Abie Rotenberg’s and Shlomo Simcha’s beautiful Aish CDs are probably my favorite albums.

 Our favorite Seder niggun Our favorite Seder niggun is Abie Rotenberg’s “Chasal Siddur Pesach” from his Lev V’Nefesh album — which is the same tune as his “The Place Where I Belong” (the Sefer Torah song from Journeys I). It puts everyone in the right mood and is a great lead into “L’shanah Habaah.” We sing the traditional tune for it, and then merge into the lively Avraham Fried version.

 A song that takes me back to my childhood When I was a boy in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to try out for Miami Boys Choir. I had a nice voice as a child, but we couldn’t afford the costs associated with it. To this day I remember practicing the Miami classic “Besiyata DiShmaya” when I was seven or eight and every time I hear it, it takes me back to the warmth of that Philadelphia home.

 An English song that strikes a special chord The famous “Neshama’le” by Abie Rotenberg. “But dear malach’l, no, I don’t want to go…” I think of it every morning and every night. In the night when I put my kids to bed and they protest “But Tatty, no, I don’t want to go…” and every morning, when it happens in reverse “But Tatty, no, we don’t want to go…”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 757)


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