SAN FRANCISCO — Within 72 hours after the 2016 US presidential elections, two Jewish friends decided to compile a musical balm for the disappointment and anguish they were experiencing. Self-described as soul brothers, this pair of rabbis culled more than two dozen songs from musical colleagues across the country in just six days.
Within two weeks after announcing a call for material on social media, they launched a site offering free downloads of songs designed to lift spirits and provide strength for their brethren.
The result is “There is Hope: A Musical Anthology for the Spirit,” a compilation curated by Rabbis David Paskin and Menachem Creditor.
“In the immediate aftermath of the election, the amount of fear and grief that came my way as a rabbi, coupled with my own, prompted a really immediate response,” Creditor tells The Times of Israel.
“It’s going to be some time before I can compartmentalize and deal with my own fear. But what is clear to me is that hope is more in demand than it was before. And I know one of the best ways to break through the deafening news cycle is with music that inspires,” he says.
The compilation opens with the title song, “There is Hope,” Creditor and Paskin’s own composition. They sing their uplifting lyrics in both English and Hebrew: “There is hope. There is healing. There is peace. There is blessing.”
The song sets the tone for the entire album.
“Perhaps the greatest gift that Judaism has given the world is the gift of hope,” Paskin says. “Our Israeli national anthem celebrates that hope, and in times of struggle and uncertainty we look to that hope to help us find the light amidst the darkness.
“For many people, these are dark times. With President-elect Trump’s words and actions we have found reason to fear and cause for concern. This collection of hopeful music is our small contribution to spreading some of that light,” says Paskin.
‘For many people, these are dark times. This collection is our small contribution to spreading some light’
That theme is consistent across 26 songs from artists representing a wide range of talent.
“We have an incredible array of artists involved,” Creditor says. “We respond with heart, with spirit, with passion, with our very souls.”
The musicians range from internationally known acts such as Neshama Carlebach, Naomi Less, Rick Recht, Chana Rothman, Julie Silver and Craig Taubman to more regional performers such as cantor Jennie Chabon and singer/songwriter Melita Silberstein, both of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The song, ‘Connected’ was written for children, but I feel it applies to anyone,” says Silberstein, who performs in two bands, including one for kids called Octopretzel. “The words convey the message that in essence we are not separate from one another or from the natural world.”
“The artists included in this compilation gave of their hearts and music to share their hope for a better tomorrow,” Paskin says. “We are thrilled to have many of the top performing and selling Jewish artists in the country as a part of our project.”
Highlights include Dan Nichols, whose song, “Children of the World” is a poignant prayer to “live in harmony with creation and each other.” Juval Porat’s “Priestly Blessing” is a spirited contemporary interpretation of the classic biblical benediction.
“The songs included represent both the diversity of Jewish music and the unanimity of our collective belief that when we believe there is hope we can overcome any obstacle and any fear,” says Paskin.
Carlebach contributed a new version of “Higher and Higher,” which her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, wrote in the ’60s.
“The deep message of the lyrics and the gorgeous, complex simplicity of the melody is powerfully relevant all these years later,” Carlebach says of her new rendition, recorded with the Green Pastures Baptist Choir.
The joint project began a decade ago, and their collaborative recording “Higher and Higher” was a six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards.
“For me, there is no song more holy and uplifting than this piece. We have had the gift of performing the song for thousands of people, its impact has been tremendous,” says Carlebach, who has performed and taught in cities worldwide and sold more than one million records.
“Our country is divided and in crisis. ‘Hope Songs’ is a love letter from many incredible artists to our world. ‘Hope Songs’ are our prayers. I know that my father is as proud to be a part of this effort as I am. I pray that our collective message is heard: We are more powerful together, we are one, we are ready for ascension and peace, we are capable of reaching higher and higher,” she says.
Creditor, spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, is a regular blogger for The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post. He has already produced albums on his own and with others.
“The Jewish music scene is populated with really sweet friends,” Creditor says. “I’m close with many of the performers, some of whom I’ve collaborated on albums and concerts with.”
‘We are more powerful together, we are one’
Some of these collaborators are already on a mission to effect positive social change through music.
“We find ourselves at a moment in history when many of us artists and creatives are feeling concerned and frightened about the change of leadership in our country,” says Peri Smilow, a national touring artist, community organizer and worship leader.
“I, like many, feel moved to use my creative gifts to communicate with others about a more hopeful future. When Rabbi David Paskin, an old friend, reached out and asked for a song to be donated to this collection, I didn’t even need to think about it. It feels empowering to know that we can make even a small difference with our music and that with the help of social media we can get that music out to thousands of people with the press of a button,” Smilow says.
Named by Newsweek as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America, Creditor is the founder and chair of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. His books include “And Yet We Love: Poems, Peace in Our Cities,” “The Hope: American Jewish Voices in Support of Israel” and “Siddur Tov LeHodot: A Transliterated Shabbat Prayerbook,” available on Amazon.
A frequent speaker on Jewish leadership and literacy in communities around the United States and Israel, he also serves as a Trustee of American Jewish World Service, and sits on the Social Justice Commission of the International Rabbinical Assembly.
Paskin, a community rabbi based in Boca Raton, Florida, previously served as the rabbi and spiritual leader of Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Massachusetts for 17 years. With his bands Rock Tov and Shirav, he has produced six albums of contemporary Jewish music, which he describes as “a mix of joyful, upbeat tunes and moving liturgical compositions” for religious schools, camps, synagogues and homes.
In addition to his Jewish music, in 2004 Paskin produced a single entitled, “So We Ride” in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Brain Tumor Society’s Ride for Research.
The friends were both ordained in 2002 in New York City — Paskin at the Academy for Jewish Religion, and Creditor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. When each first moved into rabbinical positions, they ended up in neighboring communities in the Boston area.
They formed a band with a name borrowing the Hebrew words for song, “shir,” and rabbi, “rav.” As Shirav, they recorded a few albums and performed around the US and Israel.
At the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC last March, the friends organized the walkout during then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s speech. The next day, Creditor spoke at the plenary.
“I referenced how Zionism cannot be enmeshed in the politics of hate,” Creditor says. “The issue is not limited to Donald Trump and the effort from before to reject the politics of hate. It will remain long after his tenure.”
For those who did not vote for Trump, the experience of witnessing his choices for political appointees lends additional gravity as the days increase from the election and progress toward inauguration on January 20, 2017.
“It’s a scary, crazy time as any sensitive soul would attest,” says songwriter Silberstein, who has recorded and co-produced several albums for children and adults with themes such as peace, healing and the natural world. “We need human connection now more than ever. Any reminders of peace, love and well being are necessary.”
The election was one thing, Creditor says, but the aftermath is another.
“The appointment of unbridled white supremacists to strategic positions in the White House is a fulfillment of our worst fears and perhaps worse than that. Trump’s appointment of [Stephen] Bannon [as White House chief strategist] gives hate a national amplification that makes our work as faith leaders much much harder. It means that our responsibility to inspire and organize is all the more urgently needed. And so an album called ‘There is Hope’ encapsulates our collaborative power to do good and our ability to sing anyway and to choose the tenor of the music despite this,” he says.
‘We need human connection now more than ever’
Creditor is a member of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, which has issued a call for Trump to rescind the Bannon appointment.
“Geography matters less and less when we are connected by technology but it is also true that the algorithms of Facebook and our own echo chambers have gotten in the way of truly creating what Dr. Martin Luther King called a ‘beloved community,’” Creditor says.
“I need to know about the lives of coal miners in West Virginia before I proclaim my vision of America the right one. Similarly, Trump supporters need to understand that there is an ethical use of the power they have acquired which calls upon them to be listening and humble,” he says.
When envisioning their musical project, Paskin and Creditor publicized their request nationally as an open invitation on multiple social platforms, seeking healing and positive content with “no negative energy, not even a smidge.”
Each song had to be under four minutes with artwork for each track.
“We curated for time,” Creditor says. “It wasn’t who they were or the song.”
For Julie Silver, who contributed her song, “That We All May Rise,” participating is a way to help heal.
“For many of us, our hearts are hurting and we feel very raw and vulnerable. Music is the healer. Always, but especially at times like these,” she says.
When asked what she loves about the compilation, Silver says, “That my friends so readily share their gorgeous tunes for an excellent cause. That artists step up, build bridges, connect, protest, and breathe new life into our shared goals.”