At An NYC Bat Mitzvah, “Hamilton” Becomes A Hymn

November 11th, 2016 § 3 comments


How to describe how I’ve felt this week? In approximate order: anxious, worried, heartsick, afraid, resolved, exhausted, embraced. But it wasn’t until this morning that I felt something that made me break into a wide grin, while sitting alone in an office watching YouTube.

It is well known by now that I am a Hamilton partisan, and exist unofficially at the fringes of show’s orbit due to my near-obsessive recordings of the outdoor #Ham4Ham shows. As a result, people constantly share articles and videos about Hamilton with me – and even with those and the ones I see on my own, I’m sure there are plenty I miss.

So when I clicked play this morning, on a video sent by a friend I’ve known since we started going to religious school at age five or six, I expected something sweet and well meaning, but probably a bit forced and amateurish. Yet as I said, I started smiling and then downright grinning as it played. And that’s no small achievement, because the video was obviously set within a synagogue, and I have had a complex and difficult relationship with my faith since I was young, and it was exacerbated by my mother’s death 12 years ago.

Whatever my intellectual feelings may be about my extensive religious training, I remember so many of the prayers and songs and, at times of loss, I still take comfort in the ritual and the words, both in Hebrew and in English. So this resetting of “Adon Olam,” the closing hymn at many Jewish services, to the tune of “You’ll Be Back,” was so unexpected and well-done that my only response was surprised joy.

Now I understand that many people who see this might say, ‘Well, I’m not Jewish’ or ‘I don’t speak Hebrew,’ and want to move on. Well the fact is, while I can repeat Hebrew words that have been recited to and by me for decades, I don’t speak Hebrew either. On those occasions now when I do find myself at a service, typically for bar and bat mitzvahs and for funerals, I have to look at the English translation every time if I want to know what I’m saying.

Here’s a bit of what “Adon Olam” says:

The Lord of the Universe who reigned

before anything was created.

When all was made by his will

He was acknowledged as King.

And when all shall end

He still all alone shall reign.

He was, He is,

and He shall be in glory.

And He is one, and there’s no other,

to compare or join Him.

Without beginning, without end

and to Him belongs dominion and power.

To use the melody of King George’s song from Hamilton puts a new spin on the prayer and on the power of a King as seen in the musical. It creates an intersection of the ancient and the present, words of unknown Jewish authorship that are centuries old with the music of a truly humane and talented Latinx man from in the heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In sending the video my way, my friend asked that I share it with Lin. I will, but I want to share it with all of you too. Shalom. Peace.

P.S. Thanks to Jane Lipka Helfgott for sending this my way, kudos to Cantor Azi Schwartz, and mazel tov to Zoe Cosgrove on her bat mitzvah.

Photo © Howard Sherman

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  • crazydanny

    Park Avenue Synagogue

  • Niki

    We all needed this, thank you so much for sharing a bit of unexpected peace at the end of a trying week! Shabbat Shalom, or just a peaceful weekend to you!

  • Krista Carson Elhai

    Sending this to our Cantor. The pressure is on for him to step it up! In his defense he did perform “For Good” during our twins Bat Mitzvah. The best part was he contacted Stephen Schwartz to get some insight into the lyrics which he shared with all during the service.

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