The album “Hashkiveinu” highlights the growing trend to recast traditional Jewish liturgical music in a more modern musical format, accessible to older and younger Jews.
Produced by the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe where Rabbi David Fainsilber is one of three who collaborated on this project, “Hashkiveinu” introduces the listener to three excellent voices, subdued but effective guitar, along with a supporting band of Vermonters who make this liturgical-meets-folk-meets-pop-meets-jazz musical experience a delight to listen to, whether you are Jewish or not.
Fainsilber, who sings and plays guitar, and offered the sanctuary of his synagogue for the mostly live recording of the album, says he was born a Jew and a musician. “Hashkiveinu” is an album of Jewish music sung in Hebrew; some of the nine tracks are contemporary in sound, others more liturgical.
The CD features Fainsilber along with his friends from Hebrew College in Newton Massachusetts, rabbis Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg and Micah Shapiro. The album was recorded live before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The music on this album is Friday night service for the most part,” Fainsilber said. The songs cover a wide range of music “from liturgical to pop with some jazz.”
The production was kept local with mixing and editing done in Burlington. “Hashkiveinu” was released to the public in February.
Fainsilber, 40 and a Montreal native, said the reason for the album’s creation was the personal passion of the three singers.
“We are three musical rabbis who love Jewish culture, and are striving for personal and communal pathways of Jewish community,” Fainsilber said.
The album gets its inspiration from the three rabbis’ work to “build community through music,” which Fainsilber says is “a new Jewish culture for the 21st century.”
“Judaism is an evolving civilization of religion and people with the music from Israel, and here there is a real creativity,” said Fainsilber.
Both Fainsilber and Shapiro are fine singers with expressive voices, however, Lekach-Rosenberg stands out for her authentically emotive, trained voice, one that could have graced the pulpit of any synagogue or temple at any era, had women been allowed, as they are now, to be cantors and rabbis. Her vocals on the album’s title track is inspiring. For anyone who has attended a Jewish service this track represents an authentic rendering of this liturgical melody, but it also adds a Middle Eastern percussive beat with a clarinet as the melody instrument.
“It’s a prayer for protection,” explained Fainsilber. “While recorded before the pandemic,” he said, with the pandemic not yet over, the song “is what we need now, protection.”
The following track, “Shalom Aleichem,” which translates to “peace be upon you,” is a popular Jewish melody recorded by many others including mandolinists David Grisman and Andy Statman on their instrumental album “Songs of Our Fathers.” In this setting we hear Shapiro and Lekach-Rosenberg open with electric guitar accompaniment as the song builds to a folk setting. As the song progresses, the mix adds horns which crescendo from the liturgical to a soft rock ballad that sounds to this listener like the band Toto’s pop hit “Africa.”
Tracks six and seven “Nasu” (Psalm 93) and “Shiru L’Adonai” (Psalm 96) are also liturgical in their presentation on the album. Track eight, “Mi Chamocha,” translates to “Who is like you, O God?”
Fainsilber, who has been the Stowe rabbi for eight years, said he learned music from his father beginning at age 10. His musical interests, he said, comprise a “pretty eclectic list from Stevie Wonder, R&B, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck and Radio Head among others.”
“My dad had the best record collection in Montreal,” Fainsilber said, “and I got to listen to it.” His acoustic guitar was a Bar Mitzvah gift.
The three rabbis brought their experience singing and producing previous recordings to this album although, according to Fainsilber, “the collaboration was new.”
The collaborative aspect of the project had the three rabbis develop the album concept. “We are trying to build community on a new level and we wanted to collaborate together and frame it in a Friday night liturgy,” Fainsilber said. The rabbis have all led the Friday service several times “to sing and play music together and pray.”
While the Stowe Jewish community is growing, with over 200 families as members and others who visit from elsewhere, Fainsilber said the music he and his collaborators are recording is also part of the movement to an even larger congregation aimed at attracting younger members.
“We are trying to appeal to something in the soul,” he explained. “We are trying to touch a youthful soul, but we also sing a lot of traditional tunes as well as the new songs.”
As with other religions that have incorporated music in their services, Fainsilber sees “music as a vehicle to bring a bigger sense of the deity. Music brings comfort, protest, laughter. Music can give expression to what is broken.”
More albums like “Hashkiveinu” can be expected from this trio and others. Fainsilber says this style of music is “part of a wave. There is a slew of younger musicians now taking the mantle of invigorating the music and Jewish life. We are drawn to collaboration; life should be about this. This was our way of showing how to build music and community.”
A copy of “Hashkiveinu” can be obtained by calling the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe at 802-253-1800. The album can be found on major streaming sites.