Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Psalm 121: A Song to the Ascents

I Lift My Eyes To The Mountains: So let's talk for a moment about Psalm 121. It is one of 15 psalms categorized as a Song of Ascents (Shir Hama'alot) - although unlike the others, it begins Shir LaMa'alot (A Song to the Ascents). 

The psalm is regularly recited following Mincha between Sukkot and Shabbat Hagadol, and we Jews recite various verses at other times, as well. Psalm 121 has been set to music in several languages - by Felix Mendelssohn, Leonard Bernstein, and many others.

Esa Einai 

Psalm 121 has long been one of Abq Jew's favorites - but only since he heard The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's version - way more than a few years ago. About which - more later.

Other versions? Jewish versions? Here are two of the best.

Nefesh Mountain is a New York-based progressive bluegrass band that bridges elements of American folk and Appalachian bluegrass with Celtic folk and Eastern European melodies. 

Jacob's Ladder is a Boston-based progressive bluegrass band that merges Eastern European Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish traditions with their American heritage and musical style.

Let Abq Jew be perfectly clear here: These are wonderful renditions of Psalm 121. Melodic and inspiring and tastefully Jewgrassy. Who could ask for more?


Well ... Abq Jew could. He'd heard it on one of The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's vinyl albums - which Abq Jew owned - way back in the day. The LP was long gone, but TDYB's song was an earworm stuck in Abq Jew's head. For years.

For years, Abq Jew searched YouTube and the rest of the Internet for The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's version of Esa Einai - Psalm 121. Fruitlessly. And then - wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles - just a few days ago, there it was!

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band

And we'll get to it! But first - it has occurred to Abq Jew that some of you, his loyal readers, may not have heard or heard of The Diaspora Yeshiva Band. Wikipedia therefore tells us:
The Diaspora Yeshiva Band (Hebrew: להקת ישיבת התפוצות) was an Israeli Orthodox Jewish rock band founded at the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, by ba'al teshuva students from the United States. 
In existence from 1975 to 1983, the band infused rock and bluegrass music with Jewish lyrics, creating a style of music it called "Hasidic rock" or "Country and Eastern".
The Diaspora Yeshiva Band

But TDYB's website tells us more:
The Original Diaspora Yeshiva Band was formed in 1975 by Avraham Rosenblum, a multi-talented composer, singer and guitarist who led the band through several incarnations over an eight year period.  
The group took its name from the noble (although at that time a bit wild and wooly) institution in the heart of Jerusalem where its members studied Torah.  They were among the first wave of Baalei Teshuva, returnees to Jewish religious practice who somehow managed to survive the 60s and return to the fold.

Whenever the band appeared on stage – whether on a Motza’ei Shabbos overlooking the rooftops of Har Zion, or at big venues such as Israel’s Hasidic Song Festival – the players looked pretty Yeshivish (the funky hat or two being the only giveaways). 
But when they turned on their amps and cut loose, it wasn’t Cantorial music that came out, but an original decoction of what they called ”Country and Eastern Music”: Tehillim, Bluegrass, Chassidic Niggunim, and Rock’n'Roll.

And even more:

This was not merely a musical novelty produced for fun and profit.  It wasn’t even an act of rebellion from the Jewish music of the past (or the extremely deep traditional Jewish music of the present).  

It was a natural means of expression for young men who, despite all appearances, weren’t Yeshiva Bochurim from Mir or Ponevitch or Tchebin.  

They were refugees from a secular America that, for all its economic affluence, was perceived to be spiritually bankrupt; and by the grace of the One Above, they had come to Jerusalem in search of spirituality and meaning.  

Having come of age listening to Dylan and the Beatles, Diaspora used the styles they understood best to express their own nascent feelings of love for Hashem, for the Jewish people, and for the land of Israel.

And now -


שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת 

אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃
עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם ה׳ עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃ 

אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמּ֣וֹט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ 
הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שׁ֝וֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ 

ה׳ שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ ה׳ צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ 
יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃ 

ה׳ יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ 
ה׳ יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃

Psalm 121

A song to the ascents.

I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth. 

He will not let your foot give way; your guardian will not slumber;
See, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps! 

The LORD is your guardian, the LORD is your protection at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. 

The LORD will guard you from all harm; He will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your going and coming now and forever. 

Abq Jew Credit

Yes, Abq Jew did indeed take a few precious moments to create this video and post it on his YouTube channel

The opening image, BTW, is Painted Horse at Sunrise, by Placitas artist Lisa Avila. Who will be showing off her work at the upcoming Placitas Studio Tour.

Placitas Studio Tour

And why, Abq Jew hears you ask,
is The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's Esa Einai so good?

Banjo Request

Country & Eastern!
Raucous Rock'n'Roll!

No comments: