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Aaaaaagh!!! A baalas teshuvah’s lament

temp_songexampleBah.  Once again, I’m spending Sunday evening searching for an alef-bais song of the week.  This week, you’d think it would be wide open:  the letter is ches, so anything to do with challahs, chassanim, chessed or chayim.

I’m sure I will turn something up; that’s not my frustration.

What frustrates me is that on sites like is an absolutely fantastic site for Jewish educators, don’t get me wrong!), catchy nursery, kindergarten and elementary songs for a variety of curriculum topics are often collected into absolutely wonderful, endearing little song books.

Great, right?

But no.

Because just try to figure out the tune; just try.  Either at the bottom or top of every single song is a message like the one shown here:  “(Tune:  ‘tziva yeshuos yaakov’).”

“Ohhhh,” an FFB parent is expected to say.  “Oh, you sing it just like ‘Tziva yeshuos yaakov!’  Now I get it!”  And then she can sing it along with her little one.

If you have never heard of the original song, however?  If you didn’t happen to grow up listening to Uncle Moishy or MDB or the exact right Boys’ Choir that sings the version of this song you’re supposed to know…?  Well, sorry, you’re totally out of luck. 

You do have a few choices, all of them frustrating:  look it up in an online database (like Zemerl, Hebrew, or the FAU Jewish Sound Archives, which we actually use a lot); call an FFB friend (who may or may not know the song – I have not had good luck with this option); or you could always try to make up your own tune (and then try to remember it, which is a whole ‘nother thing if you can’t read or write music).

Even if you do know the original song, there’s a very good chance that the tune you know is NOT the correct one.  Before Rosh Hashanah, we downloaded a song that was supposed to go to the tune of Avinu Malkeinu (“hey, I’ve heard of that!” I said)… but only actually accompanies the tune I know in my wildest imagination and slurriest singing:

“Charata, means feels sorry; vidui, say what you did wrong.  Kabalas al ha asid, say not to do it again.  These are the steps of tshuvah.”  (huh?  I tried it a million times, and it never worked)

Now here’s verse two, which actually kind of does work with my tune, and we ended up singing it (first in Hebrew, then this English “version”) every morning leading up to Yom Kippur:

“In the month of Elul we try.  Tefilah, from our hearts we cry.  Now is the time to do Teshuvah; it is a great Mitzvah.”  (it only works if you emphasize the italicized words!)

After Rosh Hashanah, we slurred “in the months of Elul and Tishrei” just to make it continuously relevant.  I mean, we hadn’t actually sung any avinu malkeinus in shul yet up ‘till that point.

Beautiful nachas moment, however.  When you have a song that the child understands and then she hears the tune at exactly the right moment in shul… well, WOW.

We hit the Avinu Malkeinus, right at the end of Neilah, and Naomi was actually behaving nicely and paying attention.  I promised her that almost right after Avinu Malkeinu, we would hear the shofar.  And then they started singing… and it wasn’t the tune she knew.  She looked at me, and I said, “just wait… they will sing it in a minute.”

Well, it was a very long minute for her to wait.  But finally, it happened:  they got to the last section of Avinu Malkeinu, and BANG, right into the tune we had practiced at home.

And there was Naomi Rivka’s voice, right next to mine (okay, emanating from around my belly-button):  “asei imanu… tzedaka vachessed v’hoshiainu…”

Nice.  It was a very nice moment. 

Which is why I love doing music with her, or all sorts.  And kind of why I wish we could find more English/Hebrew songs she can understand and relate to… with tunes I can actually figure out.


  1. It's actually tzavei yeshuos yaakov.

  2. SEE?!? See how frustrating?! Sorry, no dikduk taught in my high school...! :-)))


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