September 21, 2019

Pesach: Sing-Along-at-Home

Leviticus Chapter 23 וַיִּקְרָא:

                                                                                    In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at dusk, is the LORD’S Passover.
And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD. *


The Passover seder is my favorite Jewish ritual.

That’s probably because I come from a Pesach-loving family who customized the Haggadah, created and maintained our own traditions, and made everyone — including “the stranger” — feel at home.

Wilen family seders famously featured silly songs, and, as we went around the table(s), a part for everyone to read, explanations for our intermarried cousins and Gentile friends, plus strict adherence to the Four Cups of Wine protocol.

[Shoutout to my Uncle Jules z”l, whose job it was to surreptitiously empty Elijah’s Cup when the kinder weren’t looking. After he died, I assumed this responsibility with appropriate awe for Ha Tishbi.]

Mostly I loved singing. I can’t claim any special expertise, but I’m pretty sure religious observances centered at home where everybody sings around the table are a unique Jewish tradition.

The kids, of course, sang the Four Questions, initially in the old Ashkenazi style, and later, with the modern melody and Sephardic pronunciation. If we were lucky, Mom, may her memory be for a blessing, might sing  The Fir Kashes in Yiddish, the way she used to growing up on top of the grocery store.

We sang Seder standards like Dayenu, and Avadim Hayinu, and, towards the end of the night, Chad Gadya, a challenging chanson because the Wilen Mishpocha Minhag demanded the completion of the verses in a single breath.

Mom modified our Maxwell House haggadah with pasted-in lyric sheets for songs that you might know and obscure ones she got from the Sisterhood or _____? There was no Internet then, so maybe the fax machine at the office.

Did you guys sing Take Me Out of Egypt (to the melody of Take Me Out to the Ball Game)? Doesn’t everyone?

We always sang the “Negro spiritual” Go Down, Moses, too.

We believed then, and I still believe now, that no one is truly free until everyone is free.

Do you know the Ballad of the Four Sons?

Mom glued the lyrics inside the front cover. Sing along!

We had our special family food traditions, too.

I hate hard-boiled egg whites, so my brother and I swapped my white for his yolk. My bro-in-law and others were not big gefilte fish fans, so Mom always offered chopped liver as an appetizing (?) alternative. Picky eaters could also opt for something she called “Swedish meatballs”, but I don’t think a Swedish chef was involved. Is Lipton a Swedish name?

Some folks just go straight to the chicken soup and matza balls, and in our family — B”H — we’ve got floaters!  😇

Mom made sure (and my sister carries on the tradition to this day) that extra soup carrots were always available for those who realize that these orange pirei ha adama absolutely MAKE the soup. [DON’T @ ME!]

But, Dennis, this post is about the music, right?

OK then. I could have included a hundred more music vids, but I decided that seven — one for each night — would suffice, i.e, dayenu.

Sing along with

    • Louis Armstrong, who sets the stage with Go Down. Moses,
    • Dudi Feldman and Sruly Lipschitz as they welcome Eliyahu Ha Navi,
    • Daniel and Miri Stein’s attempt at The Four Questions,
    • Debbie Friedman’s version of the Passover story with Avadim Hayinu,
    • Doda Mollie as she runs down the Ten Plagues in The Frog Song,
    • The Maccabeats and their multi-style version of Dayenu, and feel the hope as
    • Ofra Haza closes our musical Seder with Yerushalyim Shel Zahav.

Bonus concert video from JEWMONGOUS:
They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived) Let’s Eat!


Yes, you heard that right! Here are the lyrics:

We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt
The year was 1492
Hitler had just invaded Poland
Madonna had just become a Jew
Moses was found on the Potomac
Then he marched with Martin Luther King
He came back to free us from our bondage
‘Cause S&M has never been our thing

They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So they chase us to the border
There’s a parting of the water
Tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat

Then the Pharaoh, who looked like Yul Bruyner
Heard the Jews were trying to escape
Charlton Heston came right down from the mountain
He said, “Pharaoh, you’re a damn dirty ape”
The menorah was almost out of oil
Farrakhan was planning Kristalnacht
The gefitle fish was nearing extinction
It looked like Moses and his flock were fehrkakt

They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
And we knew how to resist
‘Cause we’d rented Schindler’s List
Tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat

The 10 Egyptian plagues
1. Blood
2. Locusts
3. Boils
4. Dandruff
5. Acne
6. Backne
7. Indigestion
8. Sciatica
9. Cataracts
10. Sickle cell anemia

We fled on foot, there was no time to tarry
Leavening the bread would take too long
All we had was egg foo yung and matzoh
While battling the fearsome Viet Cong
And so tonight, we gather to remember
The ancient Hebrews who paid the price
We have a Seder, each year in December
To commemorate our savior, Jesus Christ

They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So we never did succumb to the annual pogrom
Tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat

They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So come on, blow the shofar
‘Cause they haven’t nailed us so far
Tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat

Chag Pesach Sameach! And next year in Jerusalem!

* English translation via Mechon-Mamre.