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.
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
Behold I am a violin for all your songs.
4. Avraham Avinu
Meaning: A Ladino song traditionally sung on Passover
Lyric Translation: Abraham Avinu [our Father], beloved father, blessed father, light of Israel.
5. Shalom Alechem
Meaning: Traditional song, usually sung on Friday evenings
Lyric Translation: Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.
6. Erev Shel Shoshanim
Meaning: Evening of Roses
Lyric Translation: Night falls slowly
And a wind of rose blows
Let me whisper a song for you slowly
A song of love
Meaning: Tum (טום) is the Yiddish word for noise and a balalaika (באַלאַלײַקע) is a stringed musical instrument of Russian origin.
Lyric Translation: Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?
8. Hi Ne Ma Tov
Meaning: A Jewish hymn traditionally sung on Shabbat
Lyric Translation: How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together
9. Hallelujah - Milk & Honey - 1970 Eurovision Winning Song
Lyric Translation: Halelulla, sing a song
Halelulla, we'll follow along
With a simple word, a.single word
We bless the sky, the tree, the bird
And we fill our heart with joy Halelulla
Lyric Translation: How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer's night.
Dona, dona, dona...