With great delight, the Forward presents the second Soundtrack of Our Spirit, a reader-inspired digital project to find the best new voices in Jewish music. After tallying thousands of votes from readers and consulting with our celebrity judges Lipa Schmeltzer and Neshama Carlebach, we’re proud to present the final playlist. We hope this music inspires and propels you into the High Holidays with soaring spirits.
Soundtrack of our Spirit: The Podcast
With great delight, the Forward presents the results of a reader-inspired digital project to find the best new voices in Jewish music that has surpassed even our ambitious expectations. It is a testament to the depth and diversity of Jewish song today and the chord it strikes — pun intended — in listeners across the country.
These songs are sung in English, Hebrew and Spanish, alone or accompanied by piano or guitar, by women and men, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Some are in the style of what I call “High Hazzanut,” with the sonorous embellishments of classical cantorial music heard in synagogues on holy days for centuries, while others are in the soft tones of folk music strummed on a porch at night with friends. And every type of song in between.
We received well more than 300 nominations, listened to them all, and culled the selection to send our esteemed judges a playlist of 12 — all anonymous, so that the nominees could be judged on style and technique alone. The top five listed here were determined according to the judges’ rankings, but so enchanted were we all with the others that we are posting the finalists and runners-up for your listening pleasure.
I encourage all of you to weigh in on your favorites via social media. Tweet @jdforward using the hashtag #JewTunes to let us know which of the 21 songs inspires you, or leave us a comment on Facebook.
We are indebted to our judges — Angela Buchdahl, Galeet Dardashti and David Tilman — for lending their ears and their hearts to this project. And I am indebted to Anne Cohen, deputy digital media editor, who created and shepherded this effort, and who was ably assisted by Maia Efrem, Eileen Reynolds and Lior Zaltzman. Our inspired logo was designed by Anya Ulinich.
Most of all we thank those who create songs and who support them for enriching our spiritual and communal lives. As we enter a new year, let Jewish music elevate our sense of purpose and gratitude. Let it reach across the generations to remind us what we can share by simply humming a simple tune.
"Rebecca, you have a unique talent in music. You should know that my Shabbat playlists for Friday nights and Saturday mornings are mostly your songs. There are many wonderful Jewish artists out there, but you are my very favorite! I listen to your music every Shabbat, and I mean every Shabbat. Your music is central to my weekly Shabbat traditions!"
Derrick English (Mar 23, 2014)
"Rebecca, I can't thank you enough for adding such warmth and joy and melody to our (bar mitzvah) service. You were a big hit!"
"I went to your link for the first time, and just spent the last half hour listening to samples of your wonderful singing/songwriting. I am a public school music teacher/weekend religious school music director/cantorial soloist/songleader. I am so excited to hear you. I love your voice and you are a great songwriter. I feel as if I have been given a gift. And, you sing in my vocal range!!!!! Thank you for your musical gift."
I own three of your albums (Light of Shabbat, P’Tach Libi, and Kirvu). I listen to your music every week during Shabbat. I have even created special Shabbatot playlists organizing your songs to how they appear in Mishkan Tefillah.
Your music brings so much meaning to every Shabbat. Your melodies are powerful, they tug at the heartstrings. Your music is my most favorite, and I have encouraged my rabbi to purchase your music for her collection.
I have taught your version of Hashkiveinu to my congregation and they love it. My rabbi loved it so much that she asks me to lead the congregation with your Hashkiveinu every Friday night! Your music touches more lives than you know!
Thank you so much for making the most incredible Shabbat music I’ve ever heard. Shabbat is my most favorite of our holidays and your music makes it even sweeter and more meaningful.
May you be blessed with a wonderful week, and may every Shabbat be sweeter than wine for you and your loved ones. Thank you so much for sharing your musical talent with the world."
Derrick English (Jan 20, 2014)
"Finally got a chance to listen to your new CD. You keep getting better and better. The mixed use of Hebrew and English lyrics, the arrangements of the melodies, and your singing seem to improve with each CD. Kol Hakavod."
Cantor Alane S. Katzew (re: "Kirvu") (Feb 26, 2013)
"Our many, many thanks! You worked with (our son) with kindness and patience, moving him from a feeling that it could not be done to mastering t'fillot and his Torah portion. This was such a positive experience for him."
Beth, the mother of a bar mitzvah student (Nov 8, 2012)
"Rebecca creates a landscape for prayer. She is a performer; not just a singer."
Rabbi Howard Bogot (Oct, 2012)
"Rebecca, when I heard you chant my Torah portion, I didn't think I could do it. You helped me perfect my prayers and now I have the confidence to go on the bimah."
A bat mitzvah student (Oct 8, 2012)
"Rebecca, last night as I made chicken soup for Rosh Hashanah I needed music while I skimmed fat and chopped veggies. Your CDs were perfect. What could be nicer than cooking for the holiday to the accompaniment of you singing your beautiful songs? I am sure that others get as much joy from them as I do, but I wanted to be sure to tell you."
A congregant (Sep 11, 2012)
Thank you for all of your hard work to prepare our son for his bar mitzvah and for lending your voice so beautifully to his service. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house during 'L'dor Vador'. What a perfect culmination to his years of choir and study with you. We are so very lucky you've decided to make Kol Ami your spiritual home, and our son is lucky to have you to continue to help him find his voice. Much love, Rachel"
Rachel (a congregant) (Jun 6, 2011)
"THIS SERMON IS DEDICATED TO REBECCA SCHWARTZ IN APPRECIATION FOR HER GUIDANCE AND INSPIRATION THROUGH HER MUSIC
Music has the capacity to bring people together. It is something that unites rather than divides.
So, how did I get here? About five years ago, I received a call asking if I could do a Shabbat service. My bat mitzvah was in 1998 and I didn’t think I was able to remember very much. I struggled through the services and finally developed my own Shabbat Booklet and the music selection so we wouldn’t have to skip around. I began to search for new music because the traditional melodies were not inspiring me. I searched online for literally months. So, I decided to investigate Shabbat Jewish Folk music melodies, and eventually I came upon Rebecca Schwartz. I listened to some of the music samples that were on her website and on April 3, 2009, I ordered the songbook and 2 CD set. Then I ordered her third CD. From the moment I heard her voice, I knew that this was the beginning of an exciting path toward my spiritual journey.
Rebecca is our featured artist at Temple Beth Am. We play her music and we all sing along with her. It was a slow start for me, but I noticed a great improvement in my Hebrew and the feelings I felt when singing the songs with her. Her music brings out my spiritual joy and touches the deepest recesses of my heart. She has helped me with the order of our Shabbat service and Chanukah service, study recordings and chanting. She has been here for me when no one else was willing to share their skills and experience.
Rebecca has inspired me to such greatness through her music that I decided to study for my Para Rabbinic Certification Program with the Jewish Institute for Religious Instruction of e-synagogue. I didn’t know if I could do this, but I could hear her voice in my head saying, “Listen – from my mouth to G-d’s ear, enough already, send the good Rabbi a check and get started”. I will be with you, my friend, to guide you through with my music. The next morning I contacted Rabbi Ginsburg and the rest is history.
I consider her friendship to be a rare privilege. Hashem has blessed her because she shares her great gift of music with me and all of us at Temple Beth Am in Hemet. May G-d hold her soul (Neshamah) ever so gently so her music will always resonate into the hearts to all that hear her.
Happy Birthday, Rebecca, from all of us at Temple Beth Am. Thanks again for you kindness, generosity, and loving spirit."
Marie Helen James (Apr 9, 2011)
Thank you for adding your energy, your creativity and your voice to 'Another Song Will Rise - A Tribute to Debbie Friedman z"l.' I must say that your involvement in (the) children's medley was priceless. And, the energy that you brought to 'Miriam's Song' was infectious. Thanks for being a part of this significant community event."
Shonnie Lebovitz, Congregation M'kor Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ (Mar 16, 2011)
Thank you for the High Holy Day music. It was lovely and uplifting. You have the remarkable knack of being part of the Service rather than a center of attention. That, in itself, is a gift."
Merle S., Congregant of Congregation Kol Ami (Oct 10, 2010)
Regarding the Celebrate Israel concert on 4/18/10: "Hi Rebecca. I can't thank you enough for all that you have done. The concert was just wonderful! I know that everyone enjoyed it. It was a wonderful way to celebrate Israel's 62nd birthday. You made it very special, while helping to save lives in Israel. You are very special. I hope you know how deeply grateful we, at AFMDA, are to you and your friends for this magnificent effort."
Sharon Schmidt, Greater Philadelphia Area Director of American Friends for Magen David Adom (Apr 19, 2010)
Rebecca's "Sim Shalom" and "Only a Matter of Time"
2009 Just Plain Folks Music Awards
(Rebecca is thrilled to be among the winners for Best Jewish Album.)
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I just couldn't get the different words to work in your beautiful tune--but you could. I especially like the way you hold off on the "ul'chol makom" until the repetition of the chatimah. That way, when you pause and say "ul'chol makom," it really expands God's Presence to the place where your voice is heard. It is really quite stirring, and I'm looking forward to it helping us intensify our kavannah."
Rabbi David Ostrich, Congregation Brit Shalom (re: a request for an alternate HHD version of "R'tsei") (Sep 8, 2009)
You were absolutely delightful. You have a beautiful gift. Your voice is very beautiful, you sing with so much feeling and your music is wonderful and very engaging. Your presence and skill in leading us in prayer was so special and done with great sincerity. The spirit of Shabbat was felt by all.
Your sensitivity to both choirs was wonderful. They really appreciated you. The choir sang especially well because you inspired them with your beautiful music and especially your warmth. The congregation loved the entire evening. They are still talking about how they loved your sermon in song.
Thank you again for being here not only to honor us with your music, but to also grace us with your presence. It was a pleasure to work with you."
Cantor Charles Romalis, Temple Beth Tikvah, Wayne, NJ (Feb 2, 2009)
"Rebecca, just a note to say that it was a joy working with you last Shabbat. Your music is a lovely gift that you share in a very spiritual way. Shabbat Shira was enhanced by your presence with us. As I said to Cantor, 'She's allowed back'!"
Roland Woehr, Music Director, Congregation Beth Or, Maple Glen, PA (Jan, 2009)
This is a broadcast from a Spanish internet radio show that featured Rebecca's "P'tach Libi ~ Open My Heart". For those who don't speak Spanish, much of what's said comes from Rebecca's bio, and talks about the musicians who played on the album, along with the individual names of the featured songs.
"Rebecca - Thanks so much for your participation in the annual Early Childhood Conference. Your presentation enhanced the learning for our teachers. Comments from the participants included 'Great musician - enjoyed the class', and 'great list of resources'. We sincerely appreciate your commitment to the early childhood community."
Ellen Walters, Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education (Nov 17, 2008)
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"My name is Joy. I am a 49 year old Reform Jewish mother. I am a huge fan of yours. Your voice is so beautiful. I first heard you on the Shabbat Anthology CDs. Then I googled you. I have all 3 of your Jewish CDs. And I have bought them for other friends. They have brought me hours of pleasure and peace. I love Jewish/Hebrew music. It touches my soul. And I find that your singing of them is very spiritual. I am very envious of your congregants for being able to hear you every Shabbat. WOW!"
Joy F. (Oct 25, 2008)