Music at Moments of Transition
December 29, 2023
By Miriam Abramovich

Standing on the precipice of a new secular year, I feel the world offers us a moment to pause and the opportunity fully present to a remarkable transition. Calendar shifts, whether secular or those a part of the fabric of Jewish life, can possess a dual nature—both celebratory and inspiring. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum – feeling festive, reflective or both – the journey into a new year is not a solitary event, rather, it intertwines with a broader narrative of graduations, Jewish festivals and holidays, birthdays, Superbowls, and the many other milestones that make up the tapestry of life.

In my personal life, celebrations deserving of annual acknowledgment always call for music. Music, in many varied forms, has become my companion through many annual transitions and celebrations. For instance, my family’s evolving Hanukkah playlist, begun by my husband two decades ago, eases me into December’s long dark evenings and the lingering scent of fried potato and onion. For the week leading up to Passover, I play Elana Jagoda’s album, “Seder Song Revival,” ever though my kids have outgrown it. Her songs ushering in clean spring air, bouquets of fresh flowers, and a feeling of refreshed clarity of purpose.

And this week, as the countdown to January 1 builds, my playlist takes a nostalgic turn, embracing artists beloved by my hippie parents: Sam Cooke, John Denver, Arlo Guthrie, Carole King, Pete Seeger, and The Byrds. But why these particular songs? Much like the annual cycle of reading Torah, these American folk songs guide me through a reflective process, one that ebbs and flows with lyrics and melodies. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that some of these master folk artists were able to bridge a narrative gap between words of Torah and the rhythmic cadence of the Earth’s rotation—an endeavor perhaps, made easier by the fact that almost all of the Torah’s 5852 verses are written in prose.

The best example if, of course, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The timeless wisdom that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” also serves as the foundation for The Byrds’ iconic rendition of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” This verse encourages an embrace of newness and change as inherent aspects of the human experience, echoing the perpetual rhythmic turning mirrored in the natural world. A perfect song for New Years Day!

How does music play a role in your own holiday celebrations and traditions? Do you have cherished playlists or favorite songs that accompany you during festive moments or significant annual events? Music has a unique ability to evoke emotions, conjure memories, and set the tone for various occasions. Whether it’s the few treasured beats that mark the start of a long car ride or the tunes that weave through Jewish holidays and festivals, the ones where everyone knows all the words – our connections to music can become deeply intertwined with the fabric of our personal narratives.

As we stand on the threshold of 2024, the Buffalo Jewish Federation extends our heartfelt wishes to you, our dear readers, for a joyous and transformative year ahead. May the melodies of celebration accompany you, and may the upcoming year bring abundant opportunities to start afresh.

Miriam Abramovich is Chief Operating Officer at the Buffalo Jewish Federation.


Music at Moments of Transition - Jewish Thought of the week 2022