Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving & Jewish Music

One of the fun things about writing this blog is that I get emails from all sorts of interesting people. I had an great exchange recently with a music teacher who was looking for ideas for a Thanksgiving program for a Jewish day school. It was a great question. Every year there are active discussions about how or whether American Jews should participate in Thanksgiving celebrations. (See Life of Rubin's recent post for an example of this ambivalence). Personally, I just hosted a big Thanksgiving dinner that started with a heartfelt 'Shehecheyanu' that a large portion of my family, including a contingent of Christians, was sitting around my table.

Back to the far as I'm aware (and my awareness is notoriously limited) there isn't any specific Jewish customs or music for Thanksgiving. I came up with two possible ideas for the day school program; Sukkot and Israeli kibbutz music.

Sukkot seems an appropriate connection for two reasons. First it's a Jewish harvest festival and has songs that are thematically similar to Thanksgiving, and second, I've read at least one historian who connects the Pilgrims conception/motivation for Thanksgiving with the verses in the Torah that enjoin the Hebrews to celebrate Sukkot. (You can read more about this at One Sukkot song that might be used is Vesamachta Bechagecha, a Biblical text that commands our rejoicing during the Sukkot festival (see this link for the Hebrew words, English translation an mdi and mp3 recordings -

The other idea is Israeli pioneer / kibbutznik songs. There are a number with harvest, or at least pioneer spirit, themes. There's a famous, and very kid friendly one called Zum Gali Gali. You can read the lyrics here: and hear a midi file here: and get a score here: and a see youth choir sing it here: There's a wonderful recording of it on the first OyBaby album, too. (

I meant to post this two months ago, but forgot. It's too late to help out my correspondent with her Thanksgiving program (which I hope went well) but I'd be interested to hear what other folks think. What do you all think?


sparks said...

does someone know how i can buy the new Jewda Maccabi song...

if you didnt see his new video you must,,,


Jack said...

Sparks. I just checked in with Jewda Maccabi. He said his album is due out soon and will have 13 tracks. I'll post an announcement as soon as I hear it's out.

Anonymous said...

As a Zionist, I am extremely uncomfortable relating Thanksgiving to the state of Israel. Despite claims to the contrary by some anti-Zionists, Israel did not engage in a genocidal slaughter of its native population. I don't know how we can celebrate Thanksgiving and expect people to take us seriously when we discuss the Shoah.

Jack said...

That's the problem with analogies, isn't it. What is fairly comparable between the two ideas. I was thinking about the pioneer spirit and agrarian harvests, positive comparisons to the American Thanksgiving. You, rightly, noted the possible negative comparison: European colonizers treated Native American's pretty poorly. Comparing America to Israel in this way would draw attention to the way European immigrants treated native Palestinians. Clearly there are huge differences between the two situations (both in terms of context and outcome) but it is a interesting discussion point. Thanks for bringing it up.