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Ps. 121: Two Contemporary Musical Interpretations

Neshama Carlebach is an award-winning singer, songwriter and educator who has performed and taught in cities around the world. A six-time entrant in the Grammy Awards and winner and four-time Independent Music Awards Nominee for her most current release, Believe, Neshama has sold over one million records, making her one of today’s best-selling Jewish artists in the world. As a teenager she performed alongside her father, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. As the first then-Orthodox woman of her generation to perform for a mixed-gender audience, Neshama has sparked public conversations with brave forays into the place of women in Judaism and today’s world. Neshama lives in New York with her husband Rabbi Menachem Creditor, and their five children.

Here she performs the song Esa Einai (entitled “Heaven & Earth” on the album Higher & Higher) with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir.

Artist Statement on Esa Einai (“I Lift up My Eyes”)

There are many moments in my life when I have looked to the Psalms for inspiration. King David’s poignant, inspiring verses are somehow always relevant and relatable. 

My father’s melody for Esa Einai was one of the very first songs he composed in 1959. Simple and entrancing, he created it at the very beginning of his career when he was not sure he could write music or if anyone would ever hear his voice. The melody is filled with longing for transformation and clarity.

Esa Einai has lifted souls across the world for decades; it has given me life. I’ve heard the song more times than I can count and still I cry when I hear it. The song reminds me that God exists, that there is a source of love and strength to turn to when I feel I cannot go on. I remember that I am not alone.

One of the most incredible and redemptive experiences in my career has been the opportunity to pray and harmonize with Pastor Milton Vann and our Baptist choir. Despite all that is broken in our world, despite all the ways our cultures and backgrounds have historically divided us, within our harmonies we are able to connect so deeply. When we sing Esa Einai and the audience joins us, I am transported to a place where there are no walls, where our yearnings bring us into intimate communion. When we sing Esa Einai, I feel a sense of unity, peace, and hope.

As we struggle through these challenging pandemic days, as we witness pain and racism, I know that this song is needed more than ever. I hope and pray that these words and this melody also bring you strength and connection to the deepest Source of love. I hope that this song continues to stir souls and give hope to those of us who feel frightened and alone. I hope this song continues to have a place in your heart. 

SHEVA (“Seven" in Hebrew) is a world music ensemble that was formed in 1997. The members of the band come from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds. Their first album, Ha'Hatunah HaS'hmeemeet ("Heavenly Wedding"), featured the hit song “Salaam” (“Peace” in Arabic) also known as "Od Yavoh Shalom Aleinu” (Hebrew for "Peace Will Come Upon Us”). The band released four studio albums and one live album and toured throughout the world. The following video is a recording of Psalm 121 (in Hebrew entitled “Shir La’Maalot” or “A Song of Ascents”); the music was composed by the Hasidic performer, Yosef Karduner.

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.