In the last 40-plus years, children’s songs — even the more simple ones with the corny rhymes — have made some amazing contributions to the world of chinuch
Looking back on Pesach, I can’t help but smile as I think about my favorite part of our Seder — singing the “Ten Makkos” song to the tune of Dayeinu from the classic 613 Torah Avenue. Granted, kids’ tapes might not have had the star-power of popular singers of the day, but in the last 40-plus years, children’s songs — even the more simple ones with the corny rhymes — have made some amazing contributions to the world of chinuch.
The 613 Torah Avenue series was a definite trendsetter, created by Cheryle Knobel and Rivka Newman, preschool teachers with Pre-1A classrooms next door to each other in Brooklyn’s Toras Emes Kamenitz. One day it happened that the door to another classroom was open, and they overheard a teacher frightening the children by telling them if they don’t make a brachah, Hashem will punish them. This, they knew, would not do. And so they embarked on a method of giving over our mesorah with fun and love, ultimately producing a series of eight albums – from 1977 until 1987 — on the parshios, seasons, and Yamim Tovim, bringing the stories and concepts alive with rhyme and song.
I remember when I was a young kid, there was Morah Blanka Rosenfeld, with her creation of The Mitzvah Tree. How can anyone forget the amazing Shavuos song, “Hashem gave us a present, do you know what it was?” Then there was the brachos song, “Ari knows it, Ari knows it, and we know it too...”
Skipping a decade, there was the Uncle Moishy Pizza song, written by yours truly (to the tune of the Bostoner “Yibaneh Hamikdash”). What better way to teach children appropriate manners? Truth is, I wrote the lyrics purely for fun, and sang it to Suki as a joke. He listened and said, “What a great song!” I thought he was kidding. I asked him, “Are you serious?” I guess he was.
There was a whole generation of kids who grew up with Shmuel Kunda a”h and his two dozen albums, from Baruch Learns his Brachos (“Please say a brachah, that’s the halachah”) to Baruch Learns about Shabbos (“If you eat my challah for ein hundret yahr, you will live very long that is for sure,” or “Anyone without a Shabbos cholent doesn’t know beans about what Shabbos means”), to When Zaidy Was Young (“Every face was full of smiles, laundry hanging out for miles… people hondeld on the price, then returned the merchandise”).
Then there was Dov Dov and the Great Bicycle Race (based on Rebbetzin Yona Weinberg’s Dov Dov book series) and the memorable “Someday I Will Be” (“Tatty, Mommy, Daddy, you will see, someday I will be a talmid chacham like Rabi Akiva, you’ll be proud of me…”).
And of course, there’s the amazing and beloved Country Yossi. Remember Kivi & Tuki’s “It’s Gonna be the Little Kinderlach” and “Thank You Hashem for Kosher Pizza,” just two of his many, many classics? I adore Yossi Toiv’s sense of humor and the way he can take any topic and turn it into a hysterical parody (Think the Steeble Hoppers’ “Lukshin Kugel” and “Beep Beep”).
Then one day, Abie Rotenberg and Moshe Yess a”h, who both lived in Toronto and were both parents of young children, had an important discussion. What, they said to each other, is the secret ingredient to raising good children in a Torah way? They decided that teaching proper middos to children was imperative, so every afternoon the two of them would meet up and work on what would become the Marvelous Midos Machine. We all learned and laughed with Dr Midos and Shnooky, and today our own kids are still listening, and hopefully laughing too.
Let’s not forget the beloved Ella Adler’s The Wonderful World of Shabsie and her follow-up I’m Five, I’m Five, which featured “The Nekoodos Song,” sung by Ali Scharf.
I’m sure many of you remember Yocheved Reich’s two great tapes, Yanky and Pesach (“All the Nations”) and Yanky and Shabbos (“The Shabbos Queen”). Listen again for a real blast from the past.
Some more of my personal favorites are “Did You Ever Shake a Lulav” from Yanky Strudel (Okay, I was in the studio with that one, but it’s still a winner), Professer Green & The Simcha Machine, written by Mira Simcha and Nechama Bakst, Shhh...It’s Loshon Hora, written by Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky (granted, another one of ours), Rebbe Alter’s enduring classic “Paroh in Pajamas,” and of course Torah Island, where so many children’s characters end up for a visit.
All these creations — and today so many of the oldies have been repackaged onto DVDs — really owe their start to people like Rabbi Yossi Goldstien a”h and his “Hashem Is Here,” and Yosef Silverman a”h with his amazing ”Big Gedilah Goomber – Ain’t Gonna Work on Saturday.”
I surely haven’t done justice to the genre — as I’m writing, I can’t believe how many songs come to mind. I would love to hear from our readers which songs they remember with affection and nostalgia. Even though record players and tapes are pretty much a thing of the past, I hope parents are finding a way to give over these fabulous songs — the soundtrack of their own childhoods — to the new generation.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 855)