The musical staying power of Kol Nidre
By Eileen Wingard
SAN DIEGO — Eighteen segments are featured in Alan Oren’s remarkable documentary about the Kol Nidre prayer, “Eighteen Voices Sing Kol Nidre, Secrets of a Sacred Chant.” Not all are musical voices. There are the Chassidic Rabbi telling a Kol Nidre tale by the Baal Shem Tov, and Neil Levin, from the Milkin Foundation, pontificating about the sources of Jewish music . There are two holocaust survivors recounting incidents where the Kol Nidre lifted their dejected spirits while at a labor camp and in Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Most beautiful are the various renditions of Kol Nidre, first by Angela Buchdahl, senior cantor at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, then by Al Jolson in the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, and later, by Cantor Raphael Frieder of Temple Israel in Great Neck, New York. In addition, Israeli Cellist, Amir Eldon, once the youngest member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, plays the first part of Max Bruch’s setting of the chant. Max Bruch, the son of a Christian clergyman, learned the Kol Nidre melody through his friendship with Berlin’s Cantor Abraham Jacob Lichtenstein. Snippets of other arrangements are heard or mentioned, from Perry Como and Johnny Mathis to Electric Prunes and Memuga Beach Surf Music.
Like an eighteen square quilt, with each piece having the same border, the Kol Nidre melody unifies the interesting narrative.
Oren, currently a professor of journalism at Pace University, is the son of a rabbi. .He is the former Entertainment Editor for USA Today. Other documentaries he has written include the Emmy award-winning “History of Madison Square Garden.”
While visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., he was awed by the power of Kol Nidre on a Shoah survivor. That experience motivated him to create this inspiring documentary.
During this high holiday season, Public Broadcast stations are airing the documentary in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Denver. Unfortunately, San Diego’s PBS station did not select it. Perhaps we can influence our local station to air it next year.
Wingard is a retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and a freelance writer