As Americans prepare to celebrate the July 4th holiday weekend, we are minded of the overwhelming theme of independence in Jewish music. A perfect example: David Diamond’s Aḥava. Written in 1954 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first Jews’ arrival in North America, this unique five-part work not only quotes George Washington’s letter to Jewish citizens, but also includes phrases like “They fled to escape misery and suffering, ill will and persecution and warfare. / They came—their hearts full of the ideals of their forefathers of universal morality, forbearance, and brotherhood.”
For those who might like their patriotism with a bit of a laugh, there’s Lebn zol Kolumbus (“Long Live Columbus!”), written by great Yiddish theater impresario-actor-producer Boris Thomashevsky (grandfather of the conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas). This rollicking song reflects the high spirits of Jewish immigrants newly arrived in America. Here is an excerpt:
“Ay, it’s great,
everyone sing along:
Long live Columbus!
Brothers, drink a toast to life -- l’chayyim!
Oh, long live Columbus
for discovering this new land!
Pay no heed to the grumblers.
Long live Columbus!”
In Dave Brubeck’s inspirational cantata The Gates of Justice, the words of the Psalmist, the prophet Isaiah, Rabbi Hillel, and Martin Luther King Jr. join in praise of freedom and in longing for justice and equality for all people. One of the most thrilling moments comes at the climax of the movement, “Shout Unto the Lord,” when the Jewish cantor role (sung by Alberto Mizrahi) and the black baritone (Kevin Deas) join together in singing the last words of Dr. King:
|Kevin Deas, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi and Dave Brubeck
(click to enlarge)
Now we live in a land of freedom.
Let us continue to be faithful to Thee.
May Thy law rule the life of our children,
and Thy truth unite their hearts.
We must stand for freedom!
Knowing that one day we will be free.
If we don’t live together as brothers,
we will die together as fools.
We are living in a land of freedom!
Free at last! I’m free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!
I’m free! Free!