July 22, 2008 11:23 PM

Part of my Old Songs project. A deliberately "Oriental" song in Hebrew, taken from the text of Ruth 1:16.

Well, here is something I wasn't expecting to find myself doing when I started this project: Singing in Hebrew. There's a long story to this, and a short story, and I'll stick to the short one, as the long one is too long.

I went to a Jewish high school in Minneapolis for two years, Maiminonides High School, which was a relatively short-lived school, but, I must say, offered quite a good education. Even to this day, my head swims with Talmud, and, sometimes, in my dreams, I will find myself speaking fluent Hebrew, something I am incapable of doing in my waking life, despite having studied the language for a decade. Its accurate Hebrew in my dreams as well -- I wake remembering snippets of it, and the vocabulary and syntax is correct, even though I would not have constructed such a sentence when awake, and had often forgotten the words.

So, for a while, I was also a Jewish Studies major in college. It wasn't a very hard subject for me, and the program wasn't terribly sophisticated. Mostly I was left alone to study whatever interested me, which was Yiddish culture in Europe, but included such side-trails as the strange history of false Jewish messiahs and the questionable origins of many Kabbalistic. I poured most of what I learned into a play I wrote called Kishinev, but with whatever leftover creative energy, I wrote a number of songs. In the intervening years, I forgot them all, until tonight.

Tonight I was just goofing off on my ukulele when I played a little melody that sounded awfully familiar to me. And then it all came back to me at once -- melody, lyrics, everything. I didn't write the lyrics, which come from the Book of Ruth, but I put it to music. Looking at it now, there's a bad break in the lyrics -- I sort of cleave a sentence in half. But I still think the melody is lovely.

The Hebrew, from Ruth 1:16, translates as follows: For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

I chose this passage because it has always interested me. It is now part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, but, when uttered, were the words of one women, Ruth, to another, Orpah. There has been some speculation that Ruth's words were the text to an early conversion ceremony; Ruth herself was not Jewish, but King David and King Solomon are among her descendants, and the Messiah is also supposed to be from her bloodline. Aside from the considerable scholarship that has gone into the Book of Ruth, I suspect I was attracted to the lines just because I find them to be quite romantic.

posted by Astro Zombie (1 comment total)

Far and away my favorite song of your project so far. It has the strongest melody, and the little rhythm hiccup is completely arresting. I'm glad you didn't lofi-ize this one.
posted by danb at 9:41 PM on July 24, 2008

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