Aaron Levy Samuels

Aaron Levy Samuels is a writer, speaker, and co-founder of the digital community Blavity. His book of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps, was published in fall 2013. Additional print poems and videos can be found on his website.

from “Ritual,” poetry and dance collaboration

We don’t say goodbye, we remember….

We don’t dance, our bodies become ritual
as we leap and hold each breath and
wait to see if a ghost knocks on the door
to tell us the new world has arrived
and in that moment we are one body
martyr and slave and broken system and storyteller.
each year this is our ritual
to say here here marks the place we did not die

from “Covered in Grass”

Being Black means my family came to New York
with to ties but the chains around their necks
Being Jewish means my family came to New York
with no history but the stars around their necks
Being Black means that I don’t have a home anymore
Being Jewish means that I never did
Being Black and Jewish means that my family tree
does not have headstones
My past has been swept into rivers and covered with grass
When I say that I am Black and Jewish
What I mean is that every day I carry the burden
of those who died in order for me to breathe
From Brooklyn
to Egypt
the history of my people is a pauper’s field
and I am the headstone

Samuels Grass

Still from “Covered in Grass” by Aaron Levy Samuels


Rhys Langston

“Language Arts Unit: A Rap Text Book,” by Rhys Langston Podell, is an interactive album comprised of music, video, and audio poetry as well as poetry and essay in print. Visit Langstonia for the full album. (See also Youtube; story at Tablet.)

Rhys Langston writes:

I am made to be reminded I am or am on the color line, the can in “can pass.” (I am the second son of two adjacent relayers in an oppression olympics. My (ad)mix(ture) is a great punchline or a point of analysis in postcolonial, comparative race research: eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms land at Ellis Island adjoin Louisiana sharecropping descendants of those enslaved and raped for free labor. Both ends it should be noted converged at a comedy club.)
— “Language Arts Unit: A Rap Text Book,” Foreword, p.29

Nebbish Fred

Several pieces in “Language Arts Unit” touch on the topic of scripture and its interpretation. Here, for example, are a few words from “Morning Becomes Apoplectic, A Follower’s Prayer,” and “Nebbish Frederick Douglass” —

Morning Becomes Apoplectic,
A Follower’s Prayer

Clock ticks are irrelevant
settlement, the present tense
deed is an exegesis
with a felt-tipped rhetoric
scratch and sniff
these ashy palms
smoking desert kiss

In the name of the non-gendered parent
offspring, and all encompassing spirit of WiFi,
I do ask and beseech
— “Language Arts Unit: A Rap Text Book,” p.64

Raphael (Hebro) Fulcher


Raphael Ohr Chaim Fulcher (“Hebro”) was born to African-American Orthodox Jewish parents in Crown Heights Brooklyn. He also lived formative years in North Carolina, St. Louis, and Israel. He says:

I imagine [King David’s] music had rhythm and spirit. Put on a Hip-Hop instrumental and read Psalms. It will blow your mind. I personally believe he was the greatest rapper of all time. No disrespect at all, but I don’t think it sounded much like the typical ‘Jewish’ music we hear today in the orthodox world. I want to bring his poetry back to life. — for more, visit Hebro Music
(If copying, be sure to include “music” in the url — http://www.hebromusic.com — to reach the right site)

Here’s an interview with Fulcher and another Jewish hip hop artist, Prodezra.

Scroll down at HebroMusic for the album “Genesis” to listen (Option to support by purchasing album or tracks). Among the tracks is “Gam Ki Elech,” based on Psalm 23. Video version below selected lyrics —

Now as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Gam Ki elech b’getzalmavet
Take a deep breath
And let the melody steady me
Ill be leaving doubt behind
I keep the truth ahead of me
Ready as Ill ever be
Ki Atah Imadi
I gotta dig deep
seeking the peace inside of me

There’s nothing to it but to do it
you and me
So Daveed wrote a piece sing psalm 23
Cuz we, been on a mission over centuries
Every soul a piece of the puzzle
Gotta add my piece
— from “Gam Ki Elech
[punctuation, spelling as posted]

Gam Hebro

still from “Gam Ki Elech” video

Poetry in Popular Music

Like everything on this blog, some idiosyncratic, rather than any attempt at encyclopedic, resources. These songwriters and their works include many sorts of relationships to Jewish heritage:

George and Ira Gershwin

“…In time the rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay. But our love is here to stay.” — Ira Gershwin, “LoveContinue Reading

Steve Goodman

Between… Steve Goodman (7/25/48 — 9/20/84) was a big presence in Chicago my teenage years. For those less familiar, here is his Wikipedia page andContinue Reading

Solomon Ibn Gabirol: Shaar Asher Nisgar

Solomon Ibn Gabirol was born (c. 1022) in Galaga and died in Valencia (c.1055, possibly as late as 1070), living most of his life in Saragossa. Both poet and philosoper, he began publishing while still in his teens. He is considered the first Hebrew poet to introduce Spanish-Arabic styles of the Golden Age into synagogue poetry.

Bilingual Hebrew/English versions of his poetry are available with prose translations by T. Carmi and verse by Raymond P. Scheindlin:

The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse. T. Carmi, editor and translator. NY/London: Penguin, 1981.

The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul. Raymond P. Scheindlin. NY/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Several of his pieces are sung as piyutim in a number of different Jewish traditions. One of those is “Shaar Asher Nisgar” or “The Gate Long Shut.”

שַׁעַר אֲשֶׁר נִסְגַּר/”The Gate Long Shut”
שַׁעַר אֲשֶׁר נִסְגַּר – קוּמָה פְּתָחֵהוּ,
וּצְבִי אֲשֶׁר בָּרַח – אֵלַי שְׁלָחֵהוּ!
לְיוֹם בּוֹאֲךָ עָדַי לָלוּן בְּבֵין שָׁדַי,
שָׁם רֵיחֲךָ הַטּוֹב עָלַי תְּנִיחֵהוּ.
מַה זֶה דְמוּת דּוֹדֵךְ, כַּלָּה יְפֵה פִיָה,
כִּי תֹאמְרִי אֵלַי: שִׁלְחָה וְקָחֵהוּ?
הַהוּא יְפֵה עַיִן אָדֹם וְטוֹב רֹאִי –
דוֹדִי וְרֵעִי זֶה, קוּמָה מְשָׁחֵהוּ!

“The gate long shut —
Get up and throw it wide;
The stag [gazelle] long fled—
Send him to my side.

When one day you come
To lie between my breasts,
That day your scent
Will cling to me like wine.”

“How shall I know his face, O lovely bride,
The lover you are asking me to send?
[Lovely bride, what shape has
your beloved that you say to me]
A ruddy face, and lovely eyes?
A handsome man to see?”

“Aye, that’s my love! Aye that’s my friend!
Anoint that one for me!”
[That is my darling, That is my
beloved. Arise and anoint him!]

–translation: Scheindlin, p.91
[Carmi, p.314, in brackets, where substantially different]

See also Piyut North America, for more on piyutim and their roles in- and out-side the synagogue; see Medieval Hebrew Poetry for a little background on medieval poets specifically.

Music Videos:
Drisha Session (pre-Passover 2015): “Songs of My Beloved: A Musical Celebration of Shir HaShirim” offers learning about Song of Songs and related piyyutim, including “Shaar Asher Nisgar.”

Rabbi Rolando (Roly) Matalon teaches Moroccan melody at about 17:00

followed by a second tune

then detailed discussion of lyrics

A third tune, Yarden Cohen

Same tune, instrumental

variant, Elia Weiss — with lyrics in Hebrew and English

More versions:
The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra and Ofir Ben-Shitrit

Kehilot Sharot — click on “וידאו”

Jah Levi (not to be confused with Levi Jah) includes brief interpretive notes with newer version on SoundCloud