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Ani Ma'amin

Background on Ani Ma'amin, as sung to Rebekka Goldsmith's melody during the Yom HaShoah Service at Congregation Bet Haverim on April 18, 2023 (at approximately 1:12:00) in the youtube video).

The words of Ani Ma'amin come from Maimonides’ 13 Principles of faith:

אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה בְּבִיאַת הַמָּשִֽׁיחַ, וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיִּתְמַהְמֵֽהַּ, עִם כָּל זֶה אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁיָּבוֹא

"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Mashiach" [translated as "Messiah" but more broadly reflects the ushering in of an age of peaceful coexistence]. "And despite the long wait, I hang on every day until Mashiach comes." [אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ“ is usually translated as “wait for (him)” but I think “hang on” captures the essence a bit better]

In 1940, a Chassidic chazzan named Azriel David Fastag composed a haunting melody for this from a train car on the way to Treblinka, where he and others on board knew they would be murdered. Fastag began singing his melody of "perfect faith"; the rest of the people on the train car sang along with him over and over. Afterward Fastag expressed to his fellow prisoners his desire for the melody to reach his mentor, who had fled to New York before the Holocaust. As the story goes, miraculously, someone from that train escaped, remembered and notated the melody, and sent it to the rabbi in New York.

The melody survived; the Jewish people survived to create more melodies. In 2018, CBH Chorus with soloist Gayanne Geurin performed Rebekka Goldsmith's melody of Ani Ma'amin, recounting the above Chassidic legacy of chanting these words in the face of the darkest inhumanity. It stuck with me, in that one-in-a-million way that musicians and music lovers might relate to, that feeling of having heard, seen, even written many combinations of words with melody, and somehow this one, this one! is immediately and inexplicably transcendent.

When I was asked if the chorus would offer something for this service, I felt we absolutely had to include this melody, while simultaneously struggling to imagine anyone doing it justice other than Gayanne. Reflecting on the symbolism of hope and survival, I asked my nine-year-old to sing through it one day in the car, wondering how a young vocalist might sound and if she might be willing to sing with the chorus on this piece. (Candidly, I was also seeking a logistical solve … the kids are stuck in the car together with one of us for very long periods of time on weekdays and if I don’t distract them they usually fight; and my kids who both have ADHD challenges do better at services if they are given something to play or lead.)

It is difficult to determine at what age and in what way we should bring children into the discussion of the Shoah. Having a child sing these words on this day forces us to confront the disturbing reality that some wish to erase Jewish children from existence, and less than a century ago amassed enough power and support to normalize the unthinkable in pursuit of that “solution.” I don’t want my own children to dwell on this or to center the Holocaust in Jewish identity, but neither can any observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day obscure that ugly reality. The Nazis callously murdered innocent children, including 1.5 million Jewish children; the world must always be forced to grapple with this. Jewish children will bear the burden of that generational trauma whether or not parents consciously expose them to it. But hearing these words sung by a child also suggests the tiny beam of light to hang onto in any darkness, the enchanting affirmation of comfort, resilience, defiance.

The chassidic melody survived; the Jewish people survived to create more melodies like Rebekka Goldsmith’s; but Mashiach eludes us. The world bleeds on with injustice, hatred, insidious stereotypes masquerading as honest questions or benign observations, the wedging of minority groups against one another, and the sort of victim-as-oppressor propaganda that fueled Hitler's rise. Jewish people are targeted with increasing frequency and severity. As a tiny minority of the global population whose associated tropes originate in conspiracy theories and exploit availability heuristics, we are also an easy target. Even so, Jews are far from the only target, and the Shoah far from the only genocide in recent history. Mashiach means peace throughout humanity. It is that for which we hang on.


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