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A Melody That Survived the Holocaust Inspires A Silver Spring Congregation

06/20/2018 04:31:02 PM

Jun20

Shamai Leibowitz

The National Library of Israel maintains the Piyut and Tfila Website  אתר הפיוט והתפילה – a musical repository and a rich archive documenting and preserving authentic liturgical melodies from Jewish communities around the world. You will find melodies originating from such diverse countries as Turkey, Poland, Yemen, Romania, Iran, Belarus, etc.

Last week they uploaded a recording that I sent them a while ago of a special liturgical melody of the Shir Shel Yom that is sung every Sunday morning at Congregation Har Tzeon- Agudath Achim (HTAA) led by Holocaust survivor Harvey Goldfarb. 

What is Shir Shel Yom?

The concluding section of the morning prayer shacharit is known as the Shir Shel Yom, literally meaning “song of the day.” It consists of a distinct psalm chosen for each day of the week, and is based on the Levites’ song that was chanted at the Temple in Jerusalem (Masechet Tamid, Chapter 7, Mishnah 4).

Despite being referred to as “song of the day,” in virtually all synagogues this psalm is never sung to a melody, but rather recited quietly. The chazzan will say out loud only the last verse, perhaps because it’s the end of shacharit, and congregants are in a hurry to leave. After all, Sunday is for brunches, not to mention it’s game day

In any case, in the overwhelming majority of synagogues – and there’s no difference between Orthodox, Chassidic, Conservative and Reform – there is no song in the “Song of the Day. . .”

In our shul, however, we sing, and we sing it to a very special melody. Harvey Goldfarb, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Radom, Poland, taught us the melody for Sunday’s “Song of the Day” that they used to sing in his community!

And every Sunday morning, when it’s time to recite Psalm 24 – which is Sunday’s “Song of the Day” – he leads the congregation in this prayer (“Ledavid mizmor, La’adonai ha’aretz u’meloah…“) to a beautiful, rousing melody that is more than a 100-years-oldI’ve been to hundreds of synagogues throughout my life, and I bet we’re the only synagogue today in the world that chants the Sunday Shir Shel Yom to a melody!

When I hear 93-year-old Harvey leading Psalm 24 in his mellifluous voice, I feel chills running down my spine. Singing this melody connects us with a thriving Jewish community that was decimated by the Nazis. Not much is left from the Radom ghetto – most of its Jews were killed, and all its Jewish institutions destroyed.

Yet this melody has not only survived, it is now sung regularly by members of a thriving Jewish synagogue in 21st-century America. Chanting this melody honors the memory of all who perished, and serves as a testament to a Jewish spirit that cannot be broken.

Thanks to Uri Kroizer, the editor-in-chief, and his staff at the National Library of Israel, Harvey’s melody can now be shared and appreciated by Jews  (and non-Jews) worldwide!

If you live in the greater Washington DC area – come join the HTAA minyannaires on a Sunday morning and feel this historical, uplifting vibe. And if you can’t – click here to hear Harvey’s melody, and if you’re so inclined – teach it to your own congregation.

Shamai Leibowitz is a bar/bat mitzvah tutor and Hebrew teacher,  and serves as the Torah reader at HTAA.

 

Click here to see the Jewish Week Article! 

Tue, August 20 2019 19 Av 5779