One of the things I enjoyed most about Doug's presentation was the way he showed how Jewish music has adopted the styles of its surrounding cultures. We have an endless parade of melodies ("David Melech Yisrael," "Dayeinu," "Siman Tov," etc.) that are lifted from Russian folk tunes. Amusingly, he calls these the "Chamber of Horas." We have other songs ("Ein K'Eiloheinu" and "Ma'oz Tzur," among many others) that sound suspiciously like German drinking songs. He even showed how contemporary favorites, like Dan Freelander and Jeff Klepper's "Shalom Rav," are inspired by the sound of Sixties folk rock. You can hear John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" nestled in the chords.
I think there is an important lesson here for Judaism in general. People sometimes claim that the secret of Jewish survival has been our ability to resist cultural assimilation. I think that the opposite sometimes is also true. Jews have flourished when they have used the contemporary culture as a cue for innovation and creativity. As if to respond to this observation, Doug Cotler finished his concert today with a rap-inspired Purim song. Judaism often finds its greatest joy in being a sponge for different cultures, not a fortress against them.
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