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# 3 August/September, 2010

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Copyright © 2010 by Yosl (Joe) Kurland

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a Badkhan's Blog
Music for the High Holy Days

Before taking up the subject of High Holy Day music, I'd like to report on some wonderful Jewish music experiences I've had in the last few days.

First, is that I was asked to come to Hamilton, Ontario by Rick Black of "Touch of Klez" klezmer band, to be a badkhan at the uf-ruf and tnoyim celebration for his son who is getting married today, as I write this. Touch of Klez was a pleasure to work with. We began with Shabbos afternoon dinner at the synagogue, at which I led the guests in singing a niggun and in dancing to it and I gave a little talk based on Michael Wex's book, How to be a Mentsh and not a S---- and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about the necessity of considering the other's needs before your own. Then, after the rabbi led birkas hamozon, the khosn (groom) attempted to give a droshe - a learned talk. The guests, by this time, knew the niggun and interrupted the khosn's droshe three times with singing and dancing and finally danced him into the sanctuary for Minkha.

The khosn and kale shared the first aliya, and the khosn did the leyning for the first two aliya. Then Cantor Eyal Bitton chanted the very long third alea with an absolutely beautiful Moroccan trope. I asked Cantor Bitton where to find recordings of this trope and he told me about the website of Cantor Haim Look. Although the extensive set of recordings on this site are expensive, there are samples that you can click on and listen to, and unless you are trying to learn to chant a whole week's portion or a year's worth of Torah readings with the Moroccan trope, the samples should be enough to give you an idea of the beauty of this tradition.

tnoyim plate
Shard of the broken plate autographed by the khosn and kale.

After the service, we all went to the social hall again for dessert, the signing of the t'noyim, music and dancing. The parents agreed to the terms of the marriage, the witnesses signed the t'noyim documents, and the mothers of the khosn and kale broke a plate, in accordance with ancient tradition. Then khosn and kale signed the pottery shards as souvenirs of the occasion.

Next, I sang my usual badkhan songs and the mekhutenistes (mothers of the khosn and kale), danced a broyges tants that I had taught them earlier in the day. It is rare when my band performs for a wedding that the mekhutenistes do the broyges tants--usually Peggy and I perform it. Often, there is no opportunity to teach it. But since I was staying in the home of the khosn's mother and because she convinced the kale's mother to come to the house to rehearse, they were able to perfect their own choreography and gestures to use in the dance.

Next, I premiered a new badkhan song that I had written earlier in the week, "Tantsn mit der Kale," Dancing with the Bride, in which I called upon various family members to do a "kosher tants" holding opposite corners of a tikhl (kerchief). Touch of Klez transitioned from that song into an hour and a half, or perhaps two hours, of uninterupted dance music. It was a great pleasure to work with Touch of Klez and to be welcomed to Hamilton, Ontario for this simkhe.

Tnoyim, Broyges Tants - The Dance of Anger and Reconciliation, and Kosher Tants
Photos by MIchelle Belshaw and Raefi Epstein

shraybn tnoyim un brekhn teler
Mothers preparing to break the plate
breaking the plate
breaking the plate

the mothers begin the broyges tants
broyges tants

the dance of anger and reconciliation
miming the argument

broyges tants 3
talking to her back

broyges tants 4
second thoughts

broyges tants 5
please forgive me

broyges tants 6
I feel so bad

broyges tants 7
friends once more

broyges tants finale

kosher tants--the bride dances with her father
kosher tants--the bride dances with her father

The second wonderful Jewish Music Experience was a perfomance at Temple Israel of Greenfield by David Chevan's Afro-Semitic Experience, accompanying three spectacular khazonim, Jack Mendelson, his son Daniel Mendelson and Erik Contzius. The program consisted of High Holy Day liturgical music composed by some of the greats of 20th century khazones with a jazz and electronic music accompaniment that had the house rocking. The concert was recorded and will be made into a CD that will be a must buy.

Nusakh for the Yomim Naroyim


The High Holy Days bring us a musical expression of prayer that is very special and different from the rest of the year. This is true of all three types of synagogue music, nusakh, song and khazanic masterpieces. When I first started leading services for High Holy Days, I was familiar with much of the Ashkenazic nusakh, but I didn't know which was to be used when. So here is a little guide to the HH nusakh as I learned it from my various teachers.

I'll start with Ma'ariv -- the evening service nusakh. Some of the prayers begin like this:

Longer prayers may begin here and end with the melody above. Shorter prayers, such as borekhu and Sh'ma may have only a part of the first melody.

Remember that nusakh can stretch or shrink to fit the words of the prayer, so musical repetitions and variations of these themes happen all the time.

On Rosh Hashone much of the service is sung to this nusakh. I like to sing a special Ahavas Olom that I learned from Cantor Earl Rackoff and a Hashkiveynu that I composed myself. This Hashkiveynu is different from the one I composed for Shabbos and introduced in Ba'al Tfile Blog #2. My intention here was for something more awe inspiring and seeking G-d's protection from danger, especially those caused by our own failings, than the gentle lullabye feeling of the Erev Shabbos Hashkiveynu. The line, "v'hoseyr soton milfoneynu umeyakhareynu" which I translate as "keep the inclination to do evil from before us and from behind us" is spoken, rather than sung, to emphasize the seriousness of the thought. Both near the beginning and the end the Congregation is invited to sing along on the repeated line, "Uf'ros oleynu sukas shlomekho" (spread over us your shelter of peace). My Rosh Hashone Hashkiveynu closes with the Ma'ariv HH nusakh that you heard in the examples above.

Rosh Hashone Ma'ariv ends with a special Kiddush Nusakh that is similar to the Kiddush for festival evenings. It begins like this:


Shakharis, after the preliminary prayers, begins with the khazn chanting a proclamation: The King sits on the throne of majesty on high. This is the chant that I learned from Cantor Lyle Rockler for Yom Kippur:

I learned a different Hamelekh from Refoyl Finkl which, for variety sake, I like to use for Rosh Hashone.

From here, we chant prayers varying between these three nuskhoyes:

This third melodic line is used only for Sh'ma and Tsur Yisroel

The Shakharis Amidah has its own set of nuskhoyes, along with some songs, and there are others for Musaf. I'm running out of time, so I won't be able to give you more examples before Rosh Hashana, so please come to shul and to experience the davening first hand. Here's my schedule:

First night Rosh Hashone: Temple Israel of Athol

First day of Rosh Hashone: Temple Israel of Athol

Second day of Rosh Hashone: Temple Israel of Greenfield

Kol Nidre/Evening of Yom Kippur: Temple Israel of Athol

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Yom Kippur day -- Shakharis (morning), Musaf (mid-day) and Ne'ileh (close of the day): Temple Israel of Greenfield

Other services in Greenfield will be chanted by Rabbi Efraim Eisen, Cantor Felicia Sloin, Mike Novack and Sher Sweet.

Other services in Athol will be chanted by Rabbi Bob Sternberg.

Yosl (Joe) Kurland leads services at Temple Israel in Athol as well as at Temple Israel in Greenfield every Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. He also often leads part of the service at Shabbatons at both Temples.. He is the lead singer with the Wholesale Klezmer Band, and prints ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) for his wife, Calligrapher Peggy Davis. You may learn more about their work at their website, which is

Please see the table of contents for other issues of the Ba'al T'file's Blog.