10 Jewish Songs for Seniors to Add to Your Music Therapy Repertoire + 3 Cultural Considerations

When working with Jewish seniors as a music therapist, there are some songs that are essential to add to your music therapy repertoire! Of course, not all of these songs will necessarily be enjoyed by all Jewish seniors, but many of them may be quite familiar and remind them of their childhood, of holidays, and of time spent with loved ones.

It's important to note a few cultural considerations when working with Jewish seniors:

1) Diverse Backgrounds

Jewish people come from many countries and diverse backgrounds, each with their own language, culture, history, and music! As an example, some Jewish seniors may identify as Ashkenazi (Eastern-European). Music from their culture would likely include Yiddish music (Yiddish is a language spoken by many Ashkenazi seniors). Others may identify as Sephardic (descending from Northern Africa, Spain & Portugal). Sephardic Jews may be more familiar with Ladino (Judeo-Spanish language) music. More-so, the Jewish religion consists of many sects/levels of practice and the Jewish people are diverse in their beliefs. If your client practices Judaism, it may be important for you to learn more about their customs around music. While music plays a large role in Jewish culture, there are certain days of the year where singing is not permitted for some. This would be particularly important for us music therapists to take note of!

2) Holocaust Survivors

Many Jewish seniors are Holocaust survivors or have family members who perished in the war. It is important to be aware that music from their past and from their country of origin could be potentially triggering. It is also important, when learning songs in their language, (such as Yiddish songs), to be aware of what the lyrics mean, as many songs are about loss, pain, and difficulties of the Holocaust. For many survivors, this is a subject they would rather not address or speak about, while others may be more forthcoming about their past. It is important to recognize that some music may bring forth memories that our clients are not willing to share and these songs might be best avoided for such a client.

3) Holidays

When working with Jewish seniors, it's helpful to keep track of the many Jewish holidays that take place throughout the year. This may help to inform you about what they are celebrating, why they may be getting together with family, and can also help to inform themes for your session. For example, customs related to the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah) begin this year onSeptember 18th. This is a time not only for celebration, but for reflection and deep contemplation about the year that has passed. This may fit in well with work you are already doing within your therapy session.

10 Songs to Add to Your Repertoire!

1. Oseh Shalom

Meaning: He Who Makes Peace: A prayer commonly sang on

Lyric Translation: He who makes peace in his high places e upon us

2. My Yiddishe Mama

Meaning: My Yiddish Mother

Lyric Translation: I long to hold her hand once more as I did in the days gone by,

And beg her to forgive me for things I did that made her cry.

3. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav

Meaning: Jerusalem of Gold

Lyric Translation: Jerusalem of gold

And of copper, and of light