Been listening nonstop lately to Basya Schechter’s new album, “Songs of Wonder.” I’ve long been a big fan of her and her band Pharaoh’s Daughter – I particularly love the way she effortlessly synthesizes so many different kinds of world musical influences to create Jewish music that is both original yet somehow utterly authentic in its energy.
In her new solo effort she has set the Yiddish poems of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to music. If you didn’t know the venerable Jewish theologian/civil rights activist had written poetry, you’re probably not alone. As it turns out, Heschel wrote them when he was just 26 years old and still a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Berlin. They were published in a wonderful bilingual edition in 2007 – according to the Amazon review:
(This) is the intimate spiritual diary of a devout European Jew, loyal to the revelation at Sinai and afflicted with reverence for all human beings. These poems sound themes that will resonate throughout Heschel’s later popular writings: human holiness, a passion for truth, awe and wonder before nature, God’s quest for righteousness, solidarity with the downtrodden, and unwavering commitment to tikkun olam. In these poems, we also discover a young man’s acute loneliness, dismay at God’s distance, and dreams of spiritual and sensual intimacy with a woman.
For her album, Schechter assembled a posse of the best of the best musicians from the downtown NYC Jewish music scene and recorded ten songs that melded the young Heschel’s spiritual yearnings to her trademark eclectic Jewish sound. It’s a fabulous, mesmerizing album.
If you’re like me and you live outside subway distance of the Upper West Side/Lower East Side, just click above to see her performing “My Song.” (The music starts at about 1:07). And you should check out this very thorough piece on her by the Forward’s Alexander Gelfand.