When searching for songs for a playlist I was putting together for my kids on Spotify, I came across a tune — “Pana HaGeshem” (“The Rain has Gone Away”) by Cindy Paley and Ann Brown — that I hadn’t heard in at least 20 years. In addition to remembering all the words of the song, I discovered that I could also recite the lengthy (and antiquated) English introduction, “For lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing is come.”
It’s not that “Pana HaGeshem” was a favorite from my childhood. It was simply the first song on my family’s “The Singing Seder” cassette tape that we listened to over and over again each spring, so it got a lot of play time. It was through accidentally rediscovering this particular song that I was brought back into a special era of my childhood.
There is no photo album at my parents’ house that could capture the endless hours that my siblings and I sat in the backseat of our family car listening to all of the popular Jewish music of the time, from the American Jewish band called Safam (my parents met at Rutgers Hillel, which is where this band first debuted) to Israeli songs by the Israeli singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer, to other popular Israeli hits from the 1970s through the 1990s. And somehow, Spotify brought me back to those hours in the car that are so deeply ingrained in my memory.
Finding this song on Spotify — and, subsequently, several other familiar childhood tunes — made me realize how some of my earliest Jewish memories were of listening to those cassette tapes. Only now am I beginning to recognize how much this music helped to shape my Jewish identity. Yes, my siblings and I listened to our fair share of Disney songs, Raffi and the like. But my parents made the clear choice to also share their love for Jewish music with us.
There was something about it that enabled us to form deep connections with our Judaism, though I’m not sure we realized it at the time. The Israeli songs helped us form strong connections to Israel and to the Hebrew language. The songs we heard by Safam helped us feel connected to a variety of modern Jewish themes, from what it meant to be a Jew in America (“World of Our Fathers”), to our responsibility as members of the post-Holocaust generation (“Amnesty”), to how we must speak up for other Jews across the world (“Leaving Mother Russia”).
Spotify’s vast catalog has enabled me to put together many playlists, from “Shabbat Kids” to “Israel Kids,” for my two children, as well as for the hundreds of students at the Leffell School in New York, where I am the lower school rabbi. In my own home, we even started listening to our Passover playlist in January so my older son could be ready with the Ma Nishtanah — which, by the way, totally worked.
As I watch my older son enjoy the tunes on our “Jewish Everyday Driving Music” playlist, a modern ode to the driving music of my past, I am also finding new meaning in the lyrics of the songs of my childhood. I tear up as my 3-year-old son belts out Safam’s “Peace by Piece.” He sings along to the words, “The world we are building, for our families to share, is made up of our words and our deeds. For the sake of our children, we must build it with care, building it peace by piece.”
I must admit, though, that as easy as it is to make Jewish playlists, at times it’s tough to compete with the perks of technology. My son loves to put certain songs on repeat, and his newest favorite is “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (apparently a popular request at his Jewish nursery school, go figure). I strategically inserted that song in a playlist alongside Jewish music, so that whenever he doesn’t skip directly to it, he gets a taste of some awesome Israeli Eurovision songs from the ’70s and ’80s, including “Oleh Oleh” and “Hallelujah.”
While my city-living kids don’t experience long car rides too often, our Jewish music playlists provide much entertainment in the post-school, post-work, pre-dinner slump. We even have mini dance parties to our “Popular Jewish Dance Music” playlist and create our own moves that my 1-year-old wiggles along to as well. These playlists are an easy way to spend a few minutes of our day doing something Jewish and special as a family.
For as long as music streaming apps continue to exist, let’s continue to revisit the music of our childhoods and add new Jewish memories to the mix. In the meantime, please enjoy our latest favorite Israeli song of “Shevet Achim V’Achayot” by Idan Raichel in the “Israel Kids Music” playlist; toddler dance moves not included.