Sign In Forgot Password

Hashiveinu: Four Musical Paths Towards Return 

07/20/2021 03:46:51 PM


This is the D'var Torah that Cantor Fogelman offered on 7/16/2021.

In honor of Tisha B’Av, I wanted to take some time tonight to explore the central text associated with this holiday: The Book of Lamentations, otherwise known in Hebrew as Eicha. The name Eicha literally translates to “How?” --  how could this have happened? How can I recover from this devastating loss? In this case, the loss was the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Eicha is not a direct historical account of the events, however. Rather, it contains stirring poetry depicting themes of loss and destruction, sprinkled with often-overlooked elements of hope, acceptance, and inspiration. It has a lot to teach us in these trying times of COVID-19, in the sense that it reminds us that we can find a silver lining to even the most challenging situations we face.


            The most famous passage in Eicha can be found in its final verses. The next to last verse, chapter 5:21, contains the words that we sang at the beginning of the service; words that we recognize from the onset of the High Holy Day season every year. They are also the same words we say each time we return the Torah to the ark:


Hashiveinu Adonai Eilecha V’Nashuva. Kadeish Yameinu K’Kedem

Help us to return to you, O God, then truly shall we return. Renew our days as in the past.


            Although the majority of Eicha is filled with outrage, confusion, and indignation, these final verses offer comfort. In fact, tradition teaches us that when we read Eicha publically, we are not allowed to end with the final verse, “For truly, you have rejected us, bitterly raged against us.” This verse is too dark for the last word. Instead, we repeat the familiar Hashiveinu verse in the hopes that one day we will return from chaos back to normalcy.


            Arguably, each of the ways we use this verse in the context of worship is an act of return in itself.  We use it to RETURN the Torah to the Ark. We use it to RETURN to the contemplation of a new year. This year we will use it to RETURN to our in person High Holy Day worship.


            We might even call it our ticket back to the status quo.


            “As much as our fortunes have been reversed in this moment, there is the possibility that our current situation might also be overturned,” writes my friend and colleague Rabbi Leah Berkowitz. We have many roles to play in that reversal, we can’t just sit and wait for it. But in order to do that work, we need to continue to be hopeful that, just as we went from joy to sadness, from community to isolation, we might, someday soon, find our fortunes moving in the opposite direction.” In other words, it goes both ways.


Rabbi Mark Brettler expands on this interpretation and connects the verse to its familiar liturgical place in the Torah service.  


“Additionally, the use of this verse here connects the return of the Torah to the ark to the return of Israel to its God and its restored land. This suggests that the ritual action of returning the Torah might help bring about a spiritual return and anticipated restoration.”


At the beginning of the service, you heard a few different ways composers have depicted this text in song. I want to return – pun intended – to these songs and offer a deeper explanation how each composer treats the text. I’d also like to introduce two additional melodies for the text to showcase


Hashiveinu: Meir Ben-Uri

            The first melody for Hashiveinu that I’d like to sing is known in some circles as being a folk melody. However, we do actually know the name of its composer. Rabbi Meir Ben-Uri was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1908. He was a bit of a Renaissance Man, with his primary profession being as an architect. His musical talents included piano, flute, recorder, and balalaika. He was also an accomplished artist, specifically in engraving and lithography. Many of Ben Uri’s compositions for the synagogue were canonical in nature; they were designed for easy singing around the family dinner table at holidays and other appointed days. His Hashiveinu is an example of this with its simple well-crafted melody that works exceedingly well as a round. I’d like to think that his expertise as an architect played a role in the construction of this piece. The melody rises in a soaring sequence and lends itself to natural repetition or “return”, so to speak.



We Return/Hashiveinu: Elana Arian and Noah Aronson


            Noah Aronson and Elana Arian first released their setting of We Return/Hashiveinu in 2017, and it has quickly risen to become one of the most popular pieces in contemporary synagogue music. It is published in the new High Holy Day Anthology that Transcontinental Music Publications released last year and has over 16,000 views on YouTube. I encourage you to listen to the YouTube recording of this piece, because I’m going to give just a little taste of it tonight.  I even managed to find a version of it in Italian, where it becomes “Torniamo” – that’s how popular and widespread this piece has become. You will likely hear this piece several times during the upcoming High Holy Day season, and I’m hoping that Hallel B’Shir will add it to their repertoire as well. You have a part too – you get to echo the phrase “We Return” – this feels especially poignant this year as we plan to safely return together as a community for our High Holy Day worship.


Hashiveinu: Klepper/Freelander

            At TINW, we are all familiar with many of Jeff Klepper’s pieces, like Shalom Rav and Haporeis Sukkat Shalom. When Jeff was a cantorial student at HUC, he presented a practicum in which he was tasked with presenting a contemporary style Selichot service. Already an accomplished songwriter, he went above and beyond and composed his own interpretation of the liturgy, which became known as his Jazz Selichot Service. This upbeat and exuberant setting of Hashiveinu comes from this service.


Hashiveinu: Louis Lewandowski

            This is the oldest composition you’ll hear tonight, and I personally find it to be one of the most beautiful pieces of Jewish music in existence. The piece was originally written in gorgeous four part choral harmony, so my solo rendition today isn’t going to do it justice. But you’ll still get a sense of the lyrical melody. Born in Poland in 1821, Louis Lewandowski spent most of his life in Germany as a renowned cantor, conductor, and composer of choral music. Although he referenced traditional Ashkenazic liturgical melodies in his compositions, he incorporated modern harmonies and wrote choral passages akin to classical composers like Felix Mendelssohn. You’ll hear that influence in his setting of Hashiveinu. You’ll notice that the other settings you heard tonight were all composed in minor. One of my teachers once explained that when we put the Torah away, we sing in a minor key because we are sad to say goodbye to the Torah. But this special setting is different. It’s major. A simple explanation is the fact that the Germanic tradition was to sing this liturgy in major. I think that hearing these words in a wistful yet hopeful way echoes the overarching theme of the Book of Lamentations. Amidst all the despair, we still find hope. When you hear the satisfying resolution at the end of this piece, I think you’ll agree.


            Shabbat Shalom!




Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782